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Your employer’s hair obsession may violate state law

Competing in an ever-crowded marketplace can be challenging for employers of all sizes. In an effort to appeal to existing customers while attracting new ones, many business owners require employees to wear uniforms or abide by strict dress codes. If your employer focuses too much on your hair, however, you may have a valid discrimination claim.

In 2019, California became the first state in the country to provide legal protections for hairstyles. The Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act, which took effect the following year, prevents employers from banning certain styles of hair that are common among black workers.

Protected hairstyles

Different racial groups have different characteristics, which often include the texture, color and pliability of hair. California’s CROWN Act makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against workers who wear cornrows, braids, dreadlocks and other styles of natural hair.

Consequently, an employer may not treat applicants or employees differently because they choose to wear natural hair or hair that remains free from chemical or manual straightening or styling.

Subtle signs of discrimination

Because your employer may not discriminate against you because of racial traits, such as your hair’s texture, you may have to watch for subtler signs of discrimination. That is, if your manager is aware of the CROWN Act, he or she may disguise discriminatory conduct using different language.

For example, your employer may refuse to give you a promotion because you do not look the part. Alternatively, your manager may tell you that because your hairstyle makes customers feel uncomfortable, you must accept a change in job duties.

Ultimately, if your employer is treating you differently because of your hair or any other racial traits, you may need to take quick action to protect your career and assert your legal rights.


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