Let the Sunshine In: California and New York Prohibit Discrimination Based on Hairstyle

Three multi-racial office workers talking and laughing
Photo Credit: istock.com/kali9

By Jeremy Mittman

Within the past two weeks, both California and New York have passed laws prohibiting employers from discriminating based upon hairstyle.  Governor Gavin Newsom signed California’s “CROWN Act” (Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair) on July 3, 2019.  The law amends the state’s Education and Government Codes to define “race or ethnicity” as “inclusive of traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles.” It takes effect on January 1, 2020.

Governor Andrew Cuomo signed New York’s SB 6209 on July 12, 2019.  It amends the definition of “race” under the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) to include the same “protective hairstyles” language as the California law, thus making it unlawful under the NYSHRL to discriminate on the basis of such traits in employment.  Both the California and New York laws define “protective hairstyles” to include hairstyles such as braids, locks, and twists.  The New York law took effect immediately upon signing.

In light of these new laws, California and New York employers should revisit their grooming standards policies to ensure they are compliant.

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