Hair discrimination laws are growing 

Since 2019, hair discrimination laws have been growing.  California, New York and New Jersey, in that order, became the first states to enact laws prohibiting hair discrimination in the workplace.  As of this writing, 19 states and 40 cities have such laws on the books. 

What is hair discrimination? 

Hair discrimination occurs when an employer takes an adverse action against an employee or job applicant based on their natural hair style or type, such as: 

  • Locks 
  • Cornrows 
  • Bantu knots 
  • Braids 
  • Twists 
  • Textured hair 
  • Afros  

In New York City, the law has been expanded to also protect hair styles and head coverings worn for religious reasons. 

Therefore, in the states and cities that have enacted what are known as CROWN acts, which stands for “Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair,” workplace grooming policies that ban or restrict natural hair or hairstyles associated with Black people violate the law. 

Employers can still have grooming policies, but they must not directly target hairstyles traditionally associated with people of color.  The policies must have a valid, non-discriminatory basis and be applied uniformly to all employees.  

For example, if a restaurant requires cooks with hair longer than shoulder length to wear hairnets, it cannot require only employees with long locks to wear hairnets, while allowing employees with long straight hair to wear it loose. 

How can employees protect themselves from hair discrimination? 

First, review your company’s policy to be sure it complies.  If not, speak with human resources or management about it. 

If you feel you’re being discriminated against because of your natural hairstyle, report the discrimination by following your company’s complaint procedure, if they have one. 

What should employers do to comply with CROWN laws? 

Review your handbook and any other policies related to employee grooming to be sure they do not conflict with your jurisdiction’s CROWN law.  Remember, grooming standards must be neutral and applied uniformly. 

If you have employment law questions, or you need help creating and updating your company’s antidiscrimination policies, call us today at 973.787.8442

This blog is for informational purposes only. It is not offered as legal advice, nor is it intended to create an attorney-client relationship with any reader. Consult with competent local employment counsel to determine how the matters addressed here may affect you.

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