On January 31, 2023, Minnesota joined a growing list of states that have enacted the CROWN Act, which prohibits discrimination based upon a person’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 those in which hair is tightly coiled or tightly curled, or worn in locs, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots, and Afros.
Versions of the CROWN Act have already been enacted in nineteen other states: Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington. Legislatures in at least seven states – Michigan, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Wisconsin – are moving to enact their own CROWN Acts.
In addition, over 40 local governments have passed laws prohibiting discrimination based on hairstyle and texture, including localities in Arizona, Florida, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.
Federal CROWN Act legislation has been unsuccessful to date. In March 2022, the CROWN Act of 2022 passed the House with bipartisan support. However, in December 2022, the companion bill did not succeed in the Senate. The legislation has not yet been introduced in the current Congress.
Separate from these legislative efforts, the EEOC has signaled its interest in pursuing claims related to discrimination based upon a person’s hair texture or hairstyle. In October 2021, the agency brought Title VII claims against American Screening, LLC, a drug and medical testing supplies distributor in Shreveport, Louisiana. In the case, the EEOC alleges that the employer engaged in race discrimination when it terminated a Black worker because she refused to wear a straight hair wig to cover her natural hair. The suit is pending in the Western District of Louisiana and a jury trial is set to start in September 2023.
What does this mean for employers?
Employers with employees in jurisdictions where CROWN Act laws are in place should review their handbooks, training materials, dress codes, and grooming policies to ensure they don’t violate governing law. The state and local versions of the CROWN Act all generally prohibit workplace discrimination based on hair texture and protected hairstyles, but they are not identical and employers should be aware of the requirements in jurisdictions where they operate.
Even in jurisdictions where no CROWN Act laws have been enacted, employers may still want to review their policies and materials, and should ensure that current and prospective employees are not treated differently because of hairstyles that are associated with a particular race or national origin.
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 versions of the CROWN Act enacted in states and localities mostly reference African-American hairstyles, employers must also accommodate the hairstyles of other minority and protected groups.
How Clear Law Institute can help
HR Policies & Employee Handbook Service
Ensuring that an employee handbook is current and compliant presents a key challenge for many organizations. Employers must:
Develop a handbook that is compliant with federal and state laws in all jurisdictions where they have employees.
Monitor the law in all jurisdictions where they have employees and change their handbook as the laws change.
Ensure that employees acknowledge receipt of the handbook and revisions to it as it is updated.
Clear Law’s Compliance Advisory Team can work with your organization to create a handbook that is both legally compliant and meets your company’s needs. Once the handbook is created and in use at your organization, we provide you with timely updates to its policies in response to changes in evolving federal and state law and help you assure that employees acknowledge receipt of the policies as the handbook change
Complete Harassment & EEO Compliance Program
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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