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Bans on Race-Based Hair Discrimination, a Growing Trend

Federal, state and local law prohibit discrimination and harassment based on a variety of protected classes, including race. Last year, several states and local counties expanded their discrimination laws to ban racial discrimination in the workplace based on hairstyles, types and textures.

On July 3, 2019, California enacted the Creating a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair (CROWN) Act and became the first state to prohibit discrimination based on hairstyles and hair texture associated with race. Specifically, California’s CROWN Act expanded its definition of “race” for purposes of discrimination to include “traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles,” and it provided the following non-exhaustive list of examples of “protective hairstyles”:  “braids, locks, and twists.”

Less than two weeks after California passed its CROWN Act, on July 12, 2019, New York became the second state to enact law prohibiting race-based discrimination based on hairstyles and textures.  New Jersey became the third state to enact a CROWN Act on December 19, 2019. 

Last year, local counties followed suit and introduced law to ban race-based hair discrimination. The City of Cincinnati, Ohio and County of Montgomery, Maryland passed ordinances to ban discrimination based on natural hair styles and hair textures/types, and several counties across the United States have pending law to ban race-based hair discrimination.

As more states and counties are expected to pass CROWN Acts, employers should take action by training managers and supervisors on how not to make any employment decisions (e.g. hiring, disciplinary or termination) based on an individual’s hair texture, type or style.

A job applicant’s or current employee’s hairstyle or type is not indicative of the individual’s ability to perform a job and should in no way impact an employment-related decision. All employees should be advised to refrain from engaging in any discriminatory communication – verbal or written (including social media posts) – that could be perceived as race-based hair discrimination.  

Talk to your HR advisor for guidance on your discrimination prevention policies and training.