On March 18th, 2022, the House of Representatives passed the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act of 2022, otherwise known as the CROWN Act, by a congressional vote of 235-to-189. The bill is based on the congressional finding that people of African descent are routinely “deprived of educational and employment opportunities because they are adorned with natural or protective hairstyles.”
The bill cites that even as recently as 2018, the United States Armed Forces still had grooming policies barring common African hairstyles, describing them as “unkempt.” As of 2021, however, the United States Army modified its hair restrictions and requirements to promote inclusivity, and accommodate soldiers' hair needs. The CROWN Act intends to pursue the trend of diminishing the barriers imposed by outdated hair requirements by expanding the scope of protections afforded to employees and job applicants.
Section 6 of the CROWN Act, on employment, prohibits employers (employers, employment agencies, labor organizations or joint-labor management committees) from discriminating against individuals, by refusing or failing to hire them, or discharging them “based on the individual’s hair texture or hairstyle, if that hair texture or hairstyle is commonly associated with a particular race or national origin.”
Hairstyles commonly associated with race or national origin include, but are not limited to, those in which hair is tightly coiled or tightly curled, or worn in locs, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots, and Afros.
Some employers in the past have argued that since Black hair can be chemically straightened and colored it is not immutable and therefore not protected under Title VII . Under the CROWN Act’s expansion of protections against race-based discrimination, Black hair would likely be considered an immutable characteristic.
The bill’s objective is to reduce discriminatory hiring practices that primarily target African-Americans. The act requires that employers be cognizant of the importance of equal opportunity hiring practices. Violations of the CROWN Act would be enforced as if they were violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, meaning that employers found to be engaged in discriminatory hiring practices could be subject to a civil lawsuit.
What does this mean for employers?
Employers should review their grooming and appearance standards to ensure they don’t conflict with any of the specific hair characteristics outlined in the CROWN Act (e.g., those in which hair is tightly coiled or tightly curled, or worn in locs, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots, and Afros). Dress codes and grooming policies are still allowed, but they must be applied equally, and they must not be discriminatory.
If any current employment practices or grooming requirements disproportionately affect one group of individuals of a particular race or national origin, such as African-Americans, they should be removed or edited so that they apply to applicants of all races and ethnicities equally. For example, employment policies excluding the hiring of an applicant based on a hairstyle that is “unkempt” cannot be utilized to target types of hair worn only by a group of individuals associated with a particular race or national origin.
Finally, employers should be responsive to employees’ or applicants’ requests for religious or cultural accommodations. Though the bill mostly references many African-American hairstyles, employers must also accommodate the hairstyles of other minority and protected groups.
How Clear Law Institute can help
To comply with federal guidelines and state laws, employers must ensure that all aspects of their harassment prevention program are fully compliant. With its in-house legal expertise, Clear Law Institute provides employers a complete workplace harassment prevention program with the following elements:
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