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Labor and Employment Law Updates

California and New York Ban Employment Discrimination Based on Natural Hairstyles

By Alison Lungstrum Macneill

This summer, California and New York became the first states to ban discrimination in employment based on natural hairstyles.FN1  The California and New York legislation, both titled the CROWN Act (“Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair”), amend California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and the New York Human Rights Law (NYHRL) by modifying the definition of race to include “traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles.”FN2   

The California CROWN Act explains the purpose of the law by stating, “[d]espite the great strides American society and laws have made to reverse the racist ideology that Black traits are inferior, hair remains a rampant source of racial discrimination with serious economic and health consequences, especially for Black individuals. Workplace dress code and grooming policies that prohibit natural hair, including afros, braids, twists, and locks, have a disparate impact on black individuals as these policies are more likely to deter black applicants and burden or punish black employees than any other group.”FN2

Takeaway

While still able to create and enforce business-related grooming policies, employers, particularly those in California and New York, should ensure policies do not prohibit hairstyles that are considered a protected racial or ethnic trait and/or have a disparate impact or place undue burden on employees of color.

Footnotes:

FN1:     In February 2019, the New York City Commission on Human Rights passed similar protections on the right to maintain natural hairstyles that are closely associated with racial, ethnic or cultural identities.  See https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/cchr/downloads/pdf/Hair-Guidance.pdf

FN2:     California Senate Bill No. 188,  https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=201920200SB188 (takes effect January 1, 2020); New York Assembly Bill No. 07797, https://assembly.state.ny.us/leg/?default_fld=&bn=A07797&term=2019&Summary=Y&Actions=Y&Text=Y&Committee%26nbspVotes=Y&Floor%26nbspVotes=Y (takes effect immediately).