For decades, the accepted standard for professionalism in the business world tended to exclude certain people. In order to get ahead, it was necessary to meet this standard at nearly any cost. For example, black people would take drastic measures in order for their hair to be acceptable to the business world. Other people had to deny their cultures and religious beliefs in order to fit the mold.
Federal law may protect people in certain groups, but when it comes to hairstyles and head coverings, the courts ruled that aspect could be changed, so it isn’t protected. In response, the state of California recently passed the CROWN Act, which prohibits employers from discriminating against people for their hairstyles or head coverings.
What this means for you
Employers can insist on certain grooming standards such as professional dress in a corporate atmosphere, protective clothing for certain job duties and similar requirements. However, they can no longer regulate how you wear your hair. You have the right to wear your natural hair, including twists, braids and locks. Head coverings may be worn as long as they don’t create an undue burden on the employer.
If you work for a private employer with more than five employees, a public school or another public employer, the CROWN Act applies to you. The act excludes nonprofit organizations and religious associations. Otherwise, as a protected group based on race, you cannot control the texture of your natural hair, and you shouldn’t have to meet antiquated Eurocentric standards for the business world, according to the state of California.
What this means for your employer
While the law does allow employers to insist on certain grooming standards, they must meet certain criteria. The policy must meet objective and legitimate business needs. Qualifying employers cannot push their own subjective standards onto you. Your employer must explain the reason for certain grooming standards. For instance, the policy could protect the safety and health of workers.
The policy can in no way dictate how you can wear your hair in your private life and must accommodate religious beliefs where possible. An employer cannot restrict certain hairstyles associated with black people, especially when alternatives are available to ensure the safety and health of employees, such as hairnets or other protective equipment.
Enforcing the new law
If you believe your employer is in violation of this new law, you may benefit from discussing the matter with an employment law attorney. You can gain an understanding of your rights and your legal options, which can provide you with a way forward.