Another crowning moment for California anti-discrimination legislation?

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The California legislature’s ongoing efforts to counter the effects of policies and practices that adversely affect employees based on race has led to another law of which employers should be aware. Senate Bill 188 (otherwise known as the Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair “CROWN” Act), which was passed in July 2019 and will take effect January 1, 2020, expands the definition of “race” under the Fair Employment and Housing Act to include hairstyles and hair textures closely associated with race. In this Bill, the legislature 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.” Accordingly, protected hairstyles under the FEHA will now include braids, locks and twists.

It is noteworthy that this Bill more generally states that the definition of “race” under the FEHA includes any “traits historically associated with race,” so other characteristics associated with race are protected, not just hairstyles. Although it is rare, the FEHA exception based on bona fide occupational qualifications and security regulations could still apply to allow employers to prohibit or regulate certain hair styles under certain specific conditions. California is not the only jurisdiction to address this specific issue; other states, and the City of New York also have passed or are considering legislation similar to this Bill.

In light of this expansion to the FEHA, California employers should review any policies and practices related to dress codes or grooming requirements, and promptly train supervisors about these changes.