California is recognized as the first state to pass a law that prohibits employers and schools from discriminating against individuals based on their choice of hairstyles. Called The CROWN Act, which stands for “Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair,” was voted into law by a majority vote. Senator Holly Mitchell told NPR, “The sheer volume of women and men and parents of students who have been sent home because someone deems their braids, twists, or locs were inappropriate for workplace settings, the sheer volume of people, suggests this clearly is a law whose time has come.”
Why is The CROWN Act so important?
For decades, ethnic children, men and women have been unnecessarily pressured to conform to socially acceptable “straight” hair styles in the workplace or in the classroom. This has long been a source of contention with many who follow traditional hairstyles or choose not to overprocess their natural hair.
The CROWN Act addressed this head on by stating,”The history of our nation is riddled with laws and societal norms that equated ‘blackness’ and the associated physical traits, for example, dark skin, kinky and curly hair to a badge of inferiority.” Men and women of color have been discriminated against for no reason other than deciding not to conform with outdated ideas of what is appropriate in a work environment. This unfair treatment ends with this law.
New York state was quick to follow, as Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed a similar law that amends the Human Rights Law and Dignity for All Students Act — making it illegal for anyone to be discriminated against based on their hair style or texture. Cuomo said, ”By signing this bill into law, we are taking an important step toward correcting that history and ensuring people of color are protected from all forms of discrimination.” It is expected that other states will follow.
What does this mean for human resources?
Navigating The CROWN Act is not going to be terribly difficult. Anticipating that other states will be enacting this law, now is the time to establish a workplace policy to address it. Most workplaces have a policy on dress code. This can be augmented to include the new rules of hair acceptance.
In cases where safety is concerned, either due to long hair, hair that obstructs vision, or loose hairstyles, it is advisable to require and provide hair nets to protect the safety of employees and customers. An alternative is to ask individuals to protect their hair with a company provided hat. This is a practice that already takes place in many industries such as manufacturing, restaurants, and healthcare facilities.
During job interviews or placement in specific job roles, appearance of a person’s hair style can not be a consideration. However, the company can require that a person arrives at work clean and neat, and this includes proper care of hair. It is important to educate new hires as much as possible about personal hygiene and professionalism as part of their development, but not placing emphasis on any one trait.
HR should also make a point to meet with management to review this law and ensure that no one inadvertently brings this up in a job interview or as part of a hiring or promotional decision.
A helpful visual aid that employees can refer to on the acceptable dress code should be made available. This can include attire, shoes, hosiery, and accessories that the company expects employees to wear. This can also include any safety wear requirements. However, all references to hair styles should be omitted.
The revised policy should also include information about The CROWN Act and what it means for employees. They should report any incidents of being singled out or discriminated against due to their hair style, without fear of repercussions. Clear disciplinary actions must be written out for offenders.
The workplace is about to gain more culture and value as people can focus on being themselves and not trying to fit into someone else’s ideals.