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Pending bill would ban hairstyle discrimination at work

Employees would be protected from discrimination based on natural hair and hairstyles associated with race and national origin, under a measure that has been approved by the U.S. House of Representatives.

The bill is called, “The Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair (CROWN) Act,” HR 2116.

The measure addresses concerns associated with stereotypes about hair textures and styles.

“For example, routinely, people of African descent are deprived of educational and employment opportunities because they are adorned with natural or protective hairstyles in which hair is tightly coiled or tightly curled, or worn in locs, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots or Afros,” according to the text of the bill.

Under the bill, employers would be barred from firing, refusing to hire or otherwise discriminating against workers as a result of their “hair texture or hairstyle, if that hair texture or that hairstyle is commonly associated with a particular race or national origin.”

The bill is now pending before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Only 14 Republicans in the House supported the bill, and its chance of passage in the Senate is uncertain. In order to stop a filibuster in the Senate, the Act will need at least 10 votes from Republicans.

The bill’s critics contend that the new measure is redundant in the face of existing laws that bar racial discrimination. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, for example, protects workers from discrimination based on color, national origin, race, religion and sex.

A similar bill is making its way through the Massachusetts legislature. The state senate approved a version that prohibits hair-related discrimination in the workplace and in schools.

The state House of Representatives has also passed a version of the measure which, unlike the Senate version, doesn’t apply to religious schools and private school athletes.

Gov. Charlie Baker has said that he supports the bill.

Several other states, including California and New York, have already passed similar laws.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has brought claims to fight employers’ appearance policies that target certain hairstyles connected with race.

With these measures pending, it would benefit employers to review their policies related to employees’ appearance and consider deleting any provisions that ban certain hairstyles or textures.

A policy may not discriminate against a certain set of employees in a protected category and should, whenever possible, be accommodating to employees’ religious beliefs. It should also indicate the reason for the policy and be related to an objective business need.

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