Employers may be surprised to learn that the law protects their employee’s hair and hairstyles—at least sometimes. Enacted in 2019, California’s CROWN Act (which stands for “Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair”) prohibits employers from discriminating against job applicants and employees based on their hairstyle or texture—such as braids, locks, and twists. The first law of its sort in the Nation, the CROWN Act’s avowed purpose is to protect those who, in our Nation’s history, have been historically discriminated against based on traits traditionally associated with race—such as hair.
Employers have realized that the CROWN Act is an important law as employees have filed discrimination claims based on an employer’s grooming and professional standards. While employers have traditionally been able to modulate their employee’s professional appearance, the CROWN Act cautions employers to be sensitive to the hairstyles and appearances of an ever-increasing diverse workforce.
So, what can employers do to reduce a potential CROWN Act claim? To begin with, employers should scrub any and all rules in their policy guides that specifically forbid specific hairstyles. In addition, employers should review their grooming and appearance policies to ensure that they do not have a disproportionate impact on a select group of employees, regardless of how facially neutral such policies appear on paper. Furthermore, employers should inform all managers and supervisors about the CROWN Act’s prohibitions and train such individuals to not comment on any employee or applicant’s appearance.
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