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CROWN Act signed into law

Massachusetts has become the latest state to ban discrimination based on natural hairstyles.

On July 26, 2022, Governor Charlie Baker signed the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair (“Crown”) Act. The act prohibits hair discrimination in workplaces and schools and will take effect on October 24, 2022.

The law bans workplace discrimination based on the use of natural or protective hairstyles, which includes natural hair texture, as well as styles including twists, locs, braids, and bantu knots.

The CROWN Act creates a new basis for an employment discrimination claim. Employers may wish to review workplace policies addressing uniforms and grooming standards in accordance with the new law. It may also be advisable to train management and human resources personnel on the scope of the law.

Generally, employers should avoid policies that prohibit particular hairstyles commonly associated with Black hair, and they should avoid restricting employees from holding certain roles (such as a customer-facing position) based on their hairstyle. When health and safety issues are a concern, employers should look for inclusive options that accommodate multiple hair textures and styles.

Studies have shown that Black workers can face prejudice in the workplace for their hairstyles. For example, a 2019 study from the JOY Collective (sponsored by Dove) found Black women are 1.5 times more likely to be sent home from the workplace because of their hair. Likewise, the study found Black women’s hair is 3.4 times more likely to be viewed as unprofessional, leading to hurdles in hiring, performance ratings, and promotions.

To date, 18 states have enacted the CROWN Act or legislation inspired by the CROWN Act. Efforts are underway to pass a federal version of the bill, which is cosponsored by Massachusetts Representative Ayanna Presley. The House passed the bill 235-189 in March, and it’s now waiting on a vote in the Senate.

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