In an important step for California, Governor Gavin Newsom signed SB 188 into law on July 3, 2019. SB 188 or also known as, the CROWN ACT, “Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair,” clarifies the definition of race for the workplace and educational institutions to include, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles, and defines protective hairstyles. While certain states have proposed legislation, California is likely the first state to protect employees from racial discrimination based on hairstyle. New York City banned hair discrimination earlier this year.

SB 188 is focused on addressing workplace dress code and grooming policies that prohibit natural hair, including afros, braids, twists, and locks, which could potentially have a disparate impact on Black individuals. Section 1(d) of the law states that workplace dress and grooming policies that prohibit natural hair “are more likely to deter Black applicants” than any other group.

Employers can still generally maintain dress and grooming policies which require employees to secure their hair for safety and hygienic reasons in accordance with the law. SB 188 also makes it clear that employers can maintain dress and grooming policies, so long as they are “valid and non-discriminatory,” and do not have a “disparate impact.” See Governor Newsom Press Release.

California employers should review their dress and grooming policies for issues that might relate to the CROWN Act or other compliance issues. If you have any questions regarding the scope or impact of SB 188, please contact Jonathan A. Siegel or the Jackson Lewis attorney you normally work with.