On July 3, 2019 Governor Newsom of California signed into law Senate Bill 188, commonly known as the CROWN Act (Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair). This Act makes California the first state to ban discrimination against Natural Hair. SB 188 went into effect on January 1, 2020, and protects both employees and students from discrimination based on natural hair and hairstyles associated with race[1]. At least six additional states have followed suit and passed similar legislation, but the law is still relatively new to employers, employees, and students.

What does the new law say?

The text of the legislation highlights our Nation’s history of equating “‘blackness,’ and the associated physical traits, for example, dark skin, kinky and curly hair to a badge of inferiority, sometimes subject to separate and unequal treatment.” SB 188 expands the definition or “race” to include “traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles.” The bill goes on to amend the Education Code, as well as the Government Code, relating to discrimination. This in turn affects the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) as well as the Education Code.

How does SB 188 affect employers?

Employer policies must now incorporate protections related to the CROWN Act. Policies should not include any provisions that prohibit hairstyles historically associated with race, such as Afros, braids, twists, and locks. While employers may continue to enforce policies that require acceptable grooming standards, employers should state the reasons for the policies and their effects must not result in a disparate impact. Reasons related to health, safety, or hygiene are acceptable, so long as they are valid and non-discriminatory. While the bill focuses primarily on hair, the true protections afforded may be much broader, as the text indicates that “race” now incorporates “traits historically associated with race.” In order to ensure your policies are compliant with the CROWN Act, please contact our California employment partner, Camille Joy DeCamp.

Authors: Camille Joy DeCamp, Azar M. Khazian, Mishal Ayaz

[1] https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=201920200SB188

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