It’s a new year, and employers know what that means: a number of new laws affecting the workplace took effect on January 1.

Law week we discussed AB51, which is under injunction pending resolution of a lawsuit.

Law protects ‘natural hair’

This week we’ll explain SB188, called the CROWN Act – “Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair.” The law clarifies the definition of race for both the workplace and educational institutions to include hair texture and protective hairstyles. It outlaws dress code and grooming policies that “prohibit natural hair, including afros, braids, twists, and locks.”

The law goes on to say, “Despite the great strides American society and laws have made to reverse the racist ideology that black traits are inferior, hair remains a rampant source of racial discrimination with serious economic and health consequences, especially for black individuals.”

Employers can still require employees to secure their hair for safety and hygienic reasons, using such alternatives as hair ties, hairnets and safety equipment.

Employees need not conform to ‘Eurocentric norms’

Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) authored the law, which was sponsored by a coalition comprising the National Urban League, Western Center on Law & Poverty, Color of Change, and Unilever’s Dove personal care brand. It applies to public schools, private employers with five or more employees, and public employers. It excludes religious associations and nonprofit organizations.

Mitchell described the law as a matter of “inclusion, pride, and choice.” “This law protects the right of black Californians to choose to wear their hair in its natural form, without pressure to conform to Eurocentric norms. I am so excited to see the culture change that will ensue.”

California is the first state to ban hair discrimination, although New York followed closely on its heels.

What should employers do to comply?

  1.  Review their workplace dress code and grooming policies to change any existing but discriminatory hairstyle policies. Policies must be inclusive of all cultures and legally protected categories, and backed by legitimate, objective business needs.
  2. Make sure policies are applied in a nondiscriminatory manner
  3. Provide training to managers and others involved in the hiring process regarding the new law.