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Understanding the impact of the CROWN Act

Workplace discrimination can target employees in many ways. Someone who has a disability could suffer from ableist comments. An employee with a religious belief could be refused food accommodations. Or, a worker could face online harassment from co-workers because of their sexual orientation.

Discrimination can also target a person’s race. An employee could face open hostility or be passed over for promotions, for example, from an employer holding prejudices against the employee’s race. However, there’s another way people of color can suffer from discrimination that’s often overlooked.

Many companies have dress codes. A dress code often instructs what each employee is expected to wear, which can also include how hair should be styled. However, grooming policies can be a form of discrimination. Here’s what you should know:

Broadening the definition of racial discrimination

For many races, hair is seen as a form of pride. How hair is styled is also a personal choice. But, more importantly, a person’s hair is often what they are born with. Their natural hair is a genetic factor that can not easily change.

Dress codes and grooming policies often attempt to force employees to conform to company standards. These rules often hurt people of color. For starters, employees often have to use many chemicals and products that can be harmful, expensive and dangerous. And, these grooming policies punish people of color, making a work environment less inclusive and diverse.

California passed the CROWN Act to address this issue. The bill expanded the definition of racial discrimination to include traits commonly and historically associated with race. Hairstyles and textures such as afros, braids, twists and locks can and should be worn without repercussions. Employees no longer have to feel subjected to prejudice because their hair is not “neat” or “professional.”

The CROWN Act sets a standard that employers are expected to comply with. However, many companies still enforce dress code policies that are partly discriminatory. Employees should understand their legal rights when combating discrimination.


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