California Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed legislation that will make it illegal for employers to discriminate against employees and job applicants based on their hairstyle if it is part of their racial makeup.

The law, known as the CROWN Act (Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair),

amends the state Education and Government Code to define race or ethnicity as “inclusive of traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to hair texture and protective hairstyles like braids, locks and twists.”

This broader definition of race means that natural hair traits fall under the context of racial discrimination in housing, employment and school matters.

The law could apply to anyone, but as legislation it was specifically introduced to stop instances of discrimination against black employees over their natural hairstyles. There have been a number of high-profile incidents over the past few years where employees and students were discriminated against based on their hair:

  • A sixth-grade Louisiana girl was expelled because her hair violated school policy.
  • In October 2018, a wrestling official in New Jersey ordered a black wrestler to cut his dreadlocks if he wanted to compete.
  • An Alabama woman sued her employer for discrimination after the organization had rescinded a promotion to another position because she had dreadlocks.

The new law “protects the right of Black Californians to choose to wear their hair in its natural form, without pressure to conform to Eurocentric norms,” said Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), who introduced the legislation.

The takeaway

The law means that it will be illegal for employers to discriminate against someone because of their hairstyle if it’s tied to their ethnicity and race. Employees that fall into this category can sue their employer for discrimination based on race under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act.

You should update your employee handbook to include this definition of race in the employment discrimination section, and also train your managers and supervisors in the change.

Remember, discrimination cases can be costly, even if the employer wins in the end. There are legal fees, costs of witnesses and damage to reputation to contend with.

The best prevention for discrimination is to have rock-solid policies in place. It’s also wise to secure an employment practices liability insurance policy. That’s a smart move for any business, particularly as the number of discrimination cases is on the rise nationwide, alongside higher jury awards for employees.