The Crown Act: Hair Discrimination Ban

In July of 2019, New York governor Andrew Cuomo signed the CROWN Act NY S6209 into effect, prohibiting race discrimination based on natural hair or hairstyles. Often, these hairstyles are related to a certain race, ancestry, color, ethnic group identification, and ethnic background, which unfortunately leads to workplace discrimination. New York joined California in prohibiting discrimination on the basis of hair, but it is growing in popularity as it has been implemented in 14 other states including:

  • New Jersey
  • Colorado
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Illinois
  • Kentucky
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Virginia
  • Wisconsin

However, each state has its own version of the Crown Act to support pre-existing legislation or to create completely new laws. But what does it mean for New York employers and employees?

Basics of the Crown Act

Under the Crown Act, employers and schools are prohibited from enforcing purportedly race-neutral grooming policies restricting natural hairstyles. This includes, but is not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles including braids, locks, and twists.

In addition, though current anti-discrimination laws protect the right to having an Afro, an Afro is not the only type of Black hair that exists. New York senator Jamaal T. Bailey added that the Act must prohibit race discrimination based on natural hair or hairstyles, as established by ancestry, color, ethnic group identification, and ethnic background, and to include traits historically associated with race, like hair texture and protective hairstyles as mentioned above.

The Crown Act amends section 292 of the Human Rights Law and section 11 of the Dignity for All Students Act, adding the “traits historically associated with race, including but not limited to hair texture and protective hairstyles.” The bill went into effect immediately.

What New York Employers Need to Be Mindful Of

Though the Crown Act has been in effect for over a year, many employers may not realize that their current policies can still be discriminatory to some workers.

Employers should review policies and keep in mind the following:

  • The wording of employment policies on employee appearance relating to hair, unless it causes the risk of harm or endangers the health.
  • Policies that seem race-neutral but actually are not.
  • Implement employee education on policies.
  • Offer training to those in management positions so they can handle appearance policies with sensitivity and care.
  • Implement unconscious bias training.
  • Create policies on comments by the hiring committee based on a potential employee’s appearance.

The Crown Act and Race, Hair Discrimination: Brown Kwon & Lam

The Crown Act has helped New Yorkers fight for equality in the workplace, but yet, discrimination continues. If you are a victim of hair discrimination in the workplace or have witnessed race or religious-based discrimination due to grooming practices, make your voice heard. You are entitled to represent yourself in a way that is authentic to you, and safe for the job you hold. If you need legal advice, contact the New York race discrimination attorneys of Brown Kwon & Lam to help you fight these injustices in the courtroom.

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