California became the first state to ban workplace discrimination on the basis of hairstyles associated with race by enacting SB-188, also known as the Creating a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair (CROWN) Act. (New York passed a similar law shortly after California.) The CROWN Act amends both the Education Code and the Government Code (i.e., the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA)) by adding the following definitions:
- “Race” is inclusive of traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles.
- “Protective hairstyles” includes, but is not limited to, such hairstyles as braids, locks, and twists.
Note that the list of “protective hairstyles” provides three specific examples and is not an exhaustive list; other types of hairstyles may be associated with race. Also, FEHA protects against discrimination based on 1) the person’s actual protected characteristic and 2) because there is a perception that the person has any of those protected characteristics or 3) because a person is associated with a person who has, or is perceived to have, any of those protected characteristics.
The new law goes into effect on January 1, 2020. To access the new Crown Act, please click here.
California also prohibits harassment based on the employee’s actual or perceived “race.” While SB-188 specifically discusses discrimination, SB-188 amends the definition of “race” under Government Code 12926. This means that employers must take reasonable steps to prevent harassment based on protective hairstyles.
Takeaways for California Employers
- Rethink Professionalism. The CROWN Act explains that “[p]rofessionalism was, and still is, closely linked to European features and mannerisms, which entails that those who do not naturally fall into Eurocentric norms must alter their appearances, sometimes drastically and permanently, in order to be deemed professional.” Therefore, employers may want to review general hiring and employment practices, including providing training.
- Rethink Dress Code and Grooming Policies. The California legislature also noted that “[w]orkplace 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.” Therefore, employers should review grooming and dress code policies to ensure compliance with the CROWN Act.
- Update Harassment Training Materials. California law prohibits harassment based on sex, and other protected categories, including race. Therefore, employers should update all harassment-related training materials.
- Update Employee Handbooks. Employee handbooks should be updated to include the anti-discrimination/harassment provisions of the under the CROWN Act.
- Train Managers. Managers should be trained to understand and recognize issues that may arise in the workplace under the CROWN Act. Failure to train managers increases the risk that a manager might, unknowingly, violate this new law and expose the employer to liability.
This and other new California laws for employers will be discussed at the presentation by SHLC Attorney Brett Sutton at the 3rd Annual South Valley Industrial Summit on October 4, 2019. For more information on this and other events, visit the Events page of our website at www.suttonhague.com.