CROWN laws prohibit discrimination based on hairstyles often associated with race, national origin or ethnicity. CROWN stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair.” These laws generally forbid discrimination based on hair textures or protective hairstyles commonly associated with a protected characteristic, such as race, national origin and ethnicity. Hair discrimination tends to disproportionately impact Black individuals, especially women, who wear hairstyles such as braids, twists, locs, Bantu knots, afros and other hairstyles. CROWN Acts aim to prevent individuals from being subjected to discrimination by unfair workplace dress codes and grooming policies due to their hair texture or style. As a result, workplace dress and grooming styles that discriminate against hair textures or styles associated with race may be unlawful.

In January 2019, California was the first state to enact a CROWN Act. This law expanded the definition of race in the state’s fair employment and housing laws and education code to protect individuals against hair discrimination. Since then, 22 states have passed their own CROWN Acts. Additionally, the U.S. Virgin Islands and more than 40 localities have passed CROWN laws. Many states that have not passed a CROWN Act have filed or pre-filed similar legislation. Moreover, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has signaled that it will pursue discrimination claims related to hair texture and style. In October 2021, the agency brought claims relating to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act against a company, alleging that the organization engaged in discrimination when it terminated a Black worker for refusing to wear a straight wig to cover her natural hair.

What Is Hair Discrimination?
Hair discrimination in the workplace occurs when an individual receives unfair treatment, including being disciplined or even terminated, due to their hair texture, style or appearance. This type of discrimination occurs when individuals are punished for violating workplace dress and appearance codes or standards. These policies are often based on subjective or biased standards of hair and professional appearance. Hair discrimination can also occur when individuals do not receive job offers or promotions due to their hair.

How Can Employers Respond to CROWN Acts?
The recent rise of state and local CROWN Acts implores employers to review their dress codes and grooming standards to ensure they comply with any applicable laws. Reviewing and updating dress codes and grooming policies, employee handbooks and training materials to ensure compliance with CROWN laws can also help create a more inclusive workplace and allow employers to detect and prevent biases due to or related to race, national origin and ethnicity.

If employers require employees to maintain a professional appearance in the workplace, they can refrain from banning or restricting certain hair textures and styles that are associated with: 

  • Twist
  • Locs
  • Braids
  • Cornrows
  • Afros
  • Bantu knots
  • Fades

Employers can also consider accommodating different hairstyles by not banning hair that extends a specific number of inches from the scalp or requiring employees to alter their hair to conform to certain standards.

Even if employers are currently not subject to CROWN laws, they can proactively review dress codes, grooming and employee handbooks to ensure that current and prospective employees are not treated differently managers and employees regarding dress codes and grooming policies as well as anti-discrimination policies.

Takeaway
It’s vital that employers understand CROWN laws, as it’s likely that more states and localities will adopt these regulations in the near future. Employers should consider taking steps now to ensure their organizations with these laws.