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California’s CROWN Act makes state first to ban hair discrimination

On July 3, California became the first state to ban discrimination against natural hair in the workplace. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the monumental CROWN Act that will extend the rights included in the California Fair Employment and Housing Act.

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act already allowed individuals to file charges if they experienced hair discrimination. But these cases were often difficult to prove. Now, the CROWN Act explicitly protects individuals against this kind of discrimination.

For years, employers deemed natural hair “unprofessional”

Employers do have a right to establish a dress code that regulates how their employees dress at work. For example, many retail stores require a uniform, while many office jobs require business casual attire. And the Civil Rights Act does allow employers to include grooming policies their employees should follow.

These policies were only allowed if they applied to all employees equally, but that was not often the case. Employers used these policies to claim that straight hair looked the most professional, and different styles or textures of hair were unprofessional. Most of these “unprofessional” hairstyles aligned with common textures and styles that people of color wore. So, these policies often:

  • Disproportionately affected employees of color—particularly women of color
  • Put these employees at risk of losing their jobs or advancing in their careers
  • Perpetuated racial biases in the workplace

This is a significant employment issue across the country that people of color face, but California lawmakers finally passed a law that expressly forbids hair discrimination.

What will the CROWN Act do?

Regardless of an employer’s intention, the CROWN Act will force all employers to be more conscious of racial biases in their workplace policies and practices. Essentially, the CROWN Act classifies any discrimination against people of color’s natural curly hairstyles as racial discrimination.

We have yet to see the CROWN Act in effect, but lawmakers and citizens alike hope the law will help protect employees of color—as well as students—across California.