Employers should consider adjusting their employee handbooks to reflect the recent passage of a state law that bans discrimination based on hairstyles typically associated with race.
CBIA HR Counsel Diane Mokriski advises employers to undertake a review of their policies to ensure compliance with the CROWN Act (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural hair), which Gov. Ned Lamont signed into law March 4.
Connecticut's Fair Employment Practices Act prohibits discrimination based on many different protected classes, including race, Mokriski said.
The CROWN Act revised Connecticut’s discrimination statutes to define race as a protected class “being inclusive of ethnic traits historically associated with race, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles.”
Connecticut employers with three or more employees are subject to this law.
Mokriski advises employers to review their employment policies and update their managerial training.
“While the CROWN Act does not generally prohibit an employer from enforcing job-related grooming policies, it does prohibit policies that have a disparate impact on some employees, based on their race,” Mokriski said.
“This means that, even where an employer did not intend to discriminate, and was not motivated by race, if that employer's seemingly neutral hair and grooming policies have an unequal effect on minority employees, that policy may violate Connecticut's anti-discrimination laws.”
Several women who testified in favor of the law before the legislature recalled their experiences with workplace discrimination because of their hairstyles and being told their hair made them look less professional.
Under the new law, workplace discrimination claims based on hairstyle can be brought before the state’s Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities.
Mokriski said employers should evaluate their grooming and appearance policies, and ensure that they:
- Do not ban certain hairstyles, such as wigs, headwraps, braids, cornrows, locs, twists, Bantu knots, afros, and afro puffs
- Do not require employees to alter the state of their natural hair (for example with chemicals or heat) in order to comply
- Do not ban hair that extends a certain number of inches from the scalp, thereby limiting Afros
- Require only a work-appropriate or safety-consistent appearance
“Just as important, employers should update their training for managers.” she said.
For example, supervisors interpreting a clean or professional grooming policy may not enforce the policy unequally by requiring Black women to have straight, pulled back hair; by requiring only Black employees to conceal their hair; or by restricting employees with Afros from customer-facing roles.
Health and safety concerns should be addressed only with non-discriminatory measures, such as nets or hair ties.
Diversity and inclusion training can often help managers understand the unique differences faced by a diverse workforce, and can assist employers with the creation of neutrally written and applied grooming policies, Mokriski said.