A New Bill in California Seeks to End Workplace Discrimination Based Upon African Americans’ Wearing of ‘Natural’ Hairstyles

California is often among the leaders in establishing legal mechanisms to protect workers from various employment harms, including discrimination. The California legislature is once again considering taking an important step that would expand the protections California workers receive.

The bill, already passed by the Senate, would extend the reach of the Fair Employment and Housing Act by banning workplace policies that, on their surface, discriminate against certain hairstyles but that, in actuality, amount to a form of race discrimination. Whether yours is related to your hair or some other issue, if you think you’ve suffered discrimination on the job, be sure that you reach out promptly to an experienced Oakland employment attorney to learn more about the legal options you may have, including filing suit and collecting compensation.

Employer hairstyle policies, on their surface, might seem like simple and necessary things to ensure that all workers maintain certain standards of hygiene, cleanliness and professional appearance. However, just like many things, the reality goes deeper, and is more complicated, than what’s on the surface. An employer’s hair rules, for example, could be used to punish an employee or job candidate for having a hairdo that the employer deems improper for that person’s gender. (In other words, a woman wearing a hairstyle the employer considers too masculine or a man wearing hair the employer thinks is too feminine.)

These things are what’s called “gender stereotyping” and they are already forbidden under the FEHA’s prohibitions against discrimination based on sex and based on gender identity.

The new bill, called the CROWN Act, would address a hair-related but different issue. In the past, some employers have instituted hairstyle restrictions that prohibit employees from wearing specific hairstyles like, for example, afros, braids, twists and locks. The problem with these policies, according to advocates for the CROWN Act, is that these hairstyles are variations on the natural hair of African Americans and the policies that prohibit them disproportionately harm African American employees and job candidates.

Harmful in many ways

These types of policies improperly discriminate based on race in several ways. For one thing, many African Americans may choose to wear their hair in certain ways, just as a Caucasian worker may choose to wear their hair in certain other ways. Additionally, for many African Americans, their wearing of these kinds of natural hairstyles is a way to reflect and honor their unique heritage and culture.

Arguably even worse, some African American workers in the past have been forced to go to expensive and harmful lengths to come into compliance with their employers’ hair policies. According to a sponsor of the bill, meeting what some employers define as “professional” hair might include, depending on one’s natural hair, using harsh hair straightening products that can be very expensive and also very damaging to the worker’s hair itself, USA Today reported.

Race discrimination can come in many different forms and varieties. California law already prohibits it, and lawmakers are working to evolve the law to better protect workers from all on-the-job harm that’s based on their race. If you’ve suffered workplace race discrimination, reach out to the experienced Oakland employment attorneys at the Law Offices of Stephen M. Fuerch. We have helped many people victimized by employment discrimination, and are here to talk to you about your situation. To learn more about what we can do for you, contact us through our website or call our office at (925) 463-1073 to schedule your confidential initial consultation today.