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California Bans “Hair Discrimination”

Effective January 1, 2020, San Diego and California employers will have to be careful about their grooming and business professionalism policies and procedures with respect to hair types and styles. See San Diego Union-Tribune news report here. The California Assembly passed and Governor Gavin Newsom has signed Senate Bill 188 (“S.B. 188”), which redefines “race” discrimination to include discrimination based on “… inclusive of traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles.” S.B. 188 is officially called the Creating a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair Act (“CROWN Act”). The CROWN Act amends California Fair Employment and Housing Act. See “Hair texture and protective hairstyles” is defined to include “braids, locks, and twists.” As a matter of legal practices, if your business has grooming policies that bans or discourages these types of hair styles, your company could be charged with race discrimination — that is, having policies that disproportionately affect people of color. See text of the CROWN Act here.

The preamble to the legislation focuses on the how the concept of “professionalism” in the workplace is “closely linked to European features and mannerisms.” Combating this definition of “professionalism” was one of the stated reasons for passing the statute.

The Act was passed unanimously by both houses of the State Assembly. The bill was authored and sponsored by Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles). As quoted by the Union-Tribune, Sen. Mitchell said that the new Act will protect all California workers and students from the fear of repercussions based on their hair and appearance “… based on someone else’s comfort level.” When she wrote the bill, she had two goals in mind: challenging “myths about black hair, its texture, and the black hair experience” and changing the accepted definition of “professionalism.”

California becomes the first state to ban Eurocentric norms with respect to hair type and styles. New York City recently passed a similar anti-discrimination ban that also specifically included cornrows, Bantu knots, and other styles. The States of New Jersey and New York are also considering legislation similar to the CROWN Act.

What Should Employers do?

Before the CROWN Act takes effect, it is important to review any company policies with respect to grooming and appearance. An experienced San Diego corporate attorney can provide advice and can help ensure your policies are in compliance with the new law. A new training regime in also needed for employees, particularly managers, supervisors, and hiring personnel.

Contact San Diego Corporate Law

For more information, call Michael Leonard, Esq., of San Diego Corporate Law. Mr. Leonard focuses his practice on business law, transactional, and corporate matters, and he proudly provides legal services to business owners in San Diego and the surrounding communities. Mr. Leonard can also help with employee-related legal services such as reviewing and drafting employment contracts, creating and/or updating employee handbooks, and more. Call Mr. Leonard at (858) 483-9200 or contact him via email. Like us on Facebook.

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