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California First State to Clarify Definition of Race Discrimination to Include Hair Style. Proactive California Employers Should Review Their Policies and Practices

In an important step for California, Governor Gavin Newsom signed SB 188 into law on July 3, 2019. SB 188 or also known as, the CROWN ACT, “Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair,” clarifies the definition of race for the workplace and educational institutions to include, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles, and defines protective hairstyles. While certain states have proposed legislation, California is likely the first state to protect employees from racial discrimination based on hairstyle. New York City banned hair discrimination earlier this year.

SB 188 is focused on addressing workplace dress code and grooming policies that prohibit natural hair, including afros, braids, twists, and locks, which could potentially have a disparate impact on Black individuals. Section 1(d) of the law states that workplace dress and grooming policies that prohibit natural hair “are more likely to deter Black applicants” than any other group.

Employers can still generally maintain dress and grooming policies which require employees to secure their hair for safety and hygienic reasons in accordance with the law. SB 188 also makes it clear that employers can maintain dress and grooming policies, so long as they are “valid and non-discriminatory,” and do not have a “disparate impact.” See Governor Newsom Press Release.

California employers should review their dress and grooming policies for issues that might relate to the CROWN Act or other compliance issues. 

Jackson Lewis P.C. © 2019

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About this Author

Jonathan A. Siegel, Labor, Employment Attorney, Jackson Lewis, Law Firm
Principal

Jonathan A. Siegel is one of the founding Principals of the Orange County, California, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He practices before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, National Labor Relations Board, state and federal agencies and courts.

Mr. Siegel also provides advice and counsel regarding labor and employment law with respect to various issues ranging from wage and hour law, reduction in force, WARN Act, discipline, leave management and harassment and discrimination issues. Mr. Siegel defends employers regarding different varieties of wrongful...

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