California became the first state to ban discrimination against employees based on hairstyles in 2019. The law especially refers to hairstyles that are typically associated with races or cultures. Like many other new California laws, the Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair (CROWN) Act went into effect on January 1, 2020.

Some California employers may be aware of the CROWN Act. However, it is critical that they understand the details now that the law is in full effect.

THE CROWN ACT BANS HAIR DISCRIMINATION IN THE WORKPLACE

Federal and state laws are clear: employers cannot discriminate against employees based on race when making employment decisions, including:

  • Hiring employees;
  • Promoting or demoting employees; or
  • Terminating employees.

The CROWN Act goes further than that. It is an amendment to the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) that specifically bans discrimination against hairstyles or textures in any workplace policies or actions. Essentially, the law now defines hairstyles as a protected characteristic, just like skin color under the current anti-discrimination laws.

Employers can still enforce policies that regulate employees’ appearances and grooming at work. However, the policy must apply to all employees fairly, such as a formal dress code. An employer cannot force an employee of color to change their hairstyle as a condition of employment.

WHAT MUST EMPLOYERS DO TO REDUCE RISK?

Anti-discrimination laws are quickly becoming stricter and more specific – especially in California. To stay ahead of these laws and avoid the chance of an employee lawsuit, employers must ensure:

  1. They review company policies regularly, so they comply with state laws; and
  2. They are consciously aware of the new law when making employment decisions.

The average discrimination case can take roughly two years to resolve. Managing the litigation while continuing to run a business can be disruptive and expensive.