On July 3rd, 2019, Governor Gavin Newson signed legislation protecting black people from hair discrimination, making California the first state in the United States to do so.
The legislation, called the CROWN (Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural hair) Act was proposed by state Sen. Holly Mitchell (D), and outlaws policies that punish black employees and K-12 students for wearing their natural hair. Workplaces and public schools are now prohibited from enforcing grooming policies that disproportionately affect people of color, specifically black people who wear braids, dreadlocks and Afros.
Under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, it’s illegal to discriminate in employment practices based on certain protected categories, including race. Mitchell’s bill provides that the definition of race under this law also include traits historically associated with race, such as hair texture and protective styles.
The preamble to SB 188 notes that “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…. [H]air today remains a proxy for race.”
Employers in California should review their policies and practices, as well as inform their employees, to ensure compliance.