California’s CROWN Act – What Employers Should Know
With a pioneering piece of legislation known as the CROWN Act (short for Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair Act), California has become the first state in the country to ban discrimination in the workplace, in schools, and elsewhere based upon a person’s “natural hairstyle.” While not specifically singling out any one ethnicity or race, the Act grew out of the experience of several individuals across the nation, each of whom allege they experienced discrimination on account of their hairstyles. Even students have been told they could not participate in school activities or sports because of braided or dreadlock hairstyles.
What is New About the CROWN Act’s Provisions
California typically leads the nation in laws designed to protect individuals from harassment and discrimination, and the CROWN Act is no exception. What makes the CROWN Act unique and noteworthy, however, is that it prohibits discrimination or harassment against an individual based upon a mutable (that is, changeable) aspect of a person’s appearance. Unlike skin color, for example, a person could potentially change his or her hairstyle to make that person’s hairstyle more “acceptable” or less “disruptive” to a work or school environment.
As supporters of the CROWN Act point out, however, taking adverse action against a job applicant, a student, or a potential tenant or homebuyer because that person is wearing a hairstyle that is historically, culturally, or otherwise meaningful to the person is akin to discriminating against a person wearing a hijab or who is clearly pregnant.
So What Do California Employers Need to Know?
The CROWN Act is not a standalone piece of legislation but is meant to supplement the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, or FEHA. This means that employees may wear the hairstyle of their choosing and cannot be discriminated, harassed, or retaliated against in employment- or other school-related decisions because of that hairstyle. Those who believe they have been treated illegally are also eligible for the same protections and recourse as those discriminated against or harassed based on other protected qualities like race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation (for example). In order to qualify, though, the hairstyle must be related to the person’s race. A worker who dyes his or her hair pink will not be able to claim protection.
At the very least, employers will need to review dress codes and other similar policies and potentially revise any policies or provisions that touch upon a person’s hair or hairstyle. Obviously, any prohibition against hairstyles like dreadlocks or curly hair will be in violation of the CROWN Act. Beyond this, though, schools, employers and their middle managers and line supervisors will want to ensure that no disciplinary action or reprimands are issued because of any perceived “disruption” or “unprofessionalism” related to a person’s hairstyle.
Contact the Heit Law Group, P.C. for Personalized and Professional Assistance
The Heit Law Group, P.C. is committed to helping business owners operate their enterprises in accordance with the FEHA and other state and federal laws and regulations. Sometimes the requirements of all these authorities can be confusing, especially when there are changes and additions to them like the CROWN Act. We are here to demystify these for you and help you know what you need to do for your business. Call us with your questions and concerns: (310) 744-5227. You can also reach us through our website, http://heitlawgroup.com.