California is the First State to Ban Racial Discrimination Based on Hairstyles

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On July 3, 2019, Governor Newsom signed Senate Bill 188 which will ban discrimination based on certain hairstyles, making California the first state to protect citizens from discrimination based on hairstyle. This bill is known as the C.R.O.W.N. Act (Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair) and provides that the standards of professional dress and grooming in the workplace and schools are often based on Eurocentric standards. The goal of the bill is to foster inclusion and diversity. Specifically, employers will no longer be allowed to have a dress code that forbids braids, twists and other natural hair styles. In addition, the definition of race now also includes “traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles.”

The law was introduced and passed after several incidents across the nation shined a light on the issue. In 2018, a 6-year old boy in Florida was denied entry to his school because of his dreadlocks. Later in the year, a New Jersey high school wrestler was forced to cut off his dreadlocks before being allowed to compete. In Fresno, schools have sent black students home because of their curls and shaved heads.

Despite the new protections being afforded under this new law, there are exceptions. For example, employers can still require workers to secure their hair for safety or hygienic reasons. In addition, the law only pertains to “natural hairstyles” which means it probably won’t protect employees who wish to dye their hair an unnatural color.

As with many California laws, it is unclear what specific “traits historically associated with race” encompasses. Certainly, the law can be read to mean that it is not just limited to hairstyles. All employers should review their dress code and grooming policies to make sure they are compliant with this new law.

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