Can Employers Enforce a Dress Code Policy that Targets Someone’s Hair?

When it comes to employment law, California tends to lead the nation in terms of the protection it provides employees.  The state’s Fair Employment and Housing Act goes beyond federal law to provide broader protections for workers against discrimination, harassment and other work place injustices. 

The state distinguished itself once again in July 2019 when Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law Senate Bill 188, the first of its kind in the nation. The law takes aim at more subtle discriminatory practices and policies that unfairly target employees based on the style or texture of their hair. 

Sadly, for years employers have been allowed to enforce dress code policies that unfairly target and penalize persons of color, often black employees, for their natural hairstyles. With the passage of Senate Bill 188, employees and their attorneys have one more tool in the legal arsenal with which to fight back against unfair workplace practices.Continue reading this article to learn more about SB 188, as well as workplace discrimination in general. If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination, contact our office to schedule a consultation.

California Employment Law on Hair Discrimination

What CA Law Says About Hair Discrimination

Senate Bill 188, also known as the Crown Act (Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair), amended both the education and government code. The Act states in part:

“Workplace dress code and grooming policies that prohibit natural hair, including afros, braids, twists, and locks, have a disparate impact on Black individuals as the policies are more likely to deter Black applicants and burden or punish Black employees than any other group.”

Senate Bill § 188 – The Crown Act

The act further acknowledges that the federal courts have long accepted that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination against persons with afros, but adds that “afros are not the only natural presentation of Black hair. Black hair can also be naturally presented in braids, twists, and locks.”Accordingly, California state law was amended to broaden the definition of race to include hair texture and protected hairstyles.

Here Are a Few Examples

While the following incident did not occur in California, and is not strictly work related, it still highlights the type of discrimination persons of color have been known to experience based on hairstyle.

In December 2018, a black high school wrestler from New Jersey was singled out by a white referee and made to cut his dreadlocks before being allowed to compete in a match. Video shows the young man agreeing to cut his hair in the gymnasium before going on to win the match by takedown.

This incident is extreme, but it demonstrates how hair policies can be used to unfairly target people of color.

In 2010, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sued Alabama- based Catastrophe Management Solutions for its treatment of a recent hire, a black woman named Chastity Jones. At the time of her interview, her hair, which was blond, was dreaded in curls known as “curllocks.” She was offered a position as a customer service representative.

At a meeting held later that day, staff noticed her dread locks and told her that company policy required her to cut her hair. She declined, and the manager rescinded the job offer.The EEOC sued the company on Chastity’s behalf.

The regional attorney for the Birmingham office stated that the litigation wasn’t about fighting company policies that require employees to maintain neat, professional hair, but rather

“it focuses on the racial bias that may occur when specific hair constructs and styles are singled out for different treatment because they do not conform to normative standards for other races.”

California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act Prohibits Racial Discrimination

California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act is contained in the Government Code. Section 12940 states that with few exceptions, it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee or job applicant based on racereligious creed,  national origin, ancestry, gender, or sexual orientation (in addition to a number of other traits). A worker who believes they have been treated differently because of legally protected characteristics should contact an attorney in order to have their case reviewed.

Have You Been the Target of Discrimination? Contact our Office

If you believe your employer is trying to enforce a policy that unfairly targets you because of the natural presentation of your hair, contact our office to schedule a consultation.

Our office doesn’t charge to review the facts of your case, and cases are often taken on a contingency basis — this means the client doesn’t pay out of pocket fees. For more information, contact the office of Branigan Robertson to learn how we can help.

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