• Tom Girardi

California makes employers reevaluate hair grooming policies

Unless your job allowed it, you would never go to work in your pajamas. You understand that you need to dress appropriately for your work environment. If you work in construction, jeans and a t-shirt are probably acceptable. If you work in an office, you wear business attire.

But what happens if your employer tries to dictate how you wear your hair? Granted, if you have long hair and work with machinery, you probably want to keep it up and out of the way so that it does not catch in a machine, but that is not what this blog is about. Your employer should not have the right to tell you that you can't wear your "natural" hair simply because of a discriminatory bias, and the state of California agrees.

Enter the CROWN Act

Recently, California legislators and Gov. Gavin Newsom enacted the CROWN Act, which prohibits employers from discriminating against certain protected groups by mandating that they wear their hair in a certain way or denying them promotions, jobs and other benefits because of a hairstyle. Historically, the definition of "professionalism" came from European standards, which tends to exclude certain individuals, especially blacks whose natural hair -- meaning not straightened -- does not meet that limited and shortsighted standard. Overcoming the bias and discrimination associated with natural hair has been a long time coming. 

What some are recommending employers do now

At least one source is recommending to employers that they review, change or update their grooming policies to comply with the Act. Below are the recommendations provided regarding appearance and grooming policies:

  • Only implement when backed up by objective and legitimate business needs

  • Never express personal preferences of those making the policies

  • Consider employees' religious beliefs when appropriate

  • Expressly outline the reason for the standards

  • Be fair, and equally apply the rules

  • Do not single out members of a particular protected group

  • Should apply only to the workplace

  • Do not attempt to dictate employees' personal lives

All of this sounds good on paper, but we don't yet know whether it makes the correct impact in reality. It often takes a court case to test new laws, and this one may not be an exception. If you happen to be the person who suffers discrimination because your superiors and/or co-workers don't think your natural hair is appropriate for the workplace, know that you may have legal recourse if the issue is not resolved satisfactorily within the company.