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Is your company’s hairstyle policy legal in California?

On Behalf of | Dec 27, 2021 | Employer Defense

Hairstyles are one way in which individuals express themselves. Businesses that seek to restrict which hairstyles are acceptable in the workplace in California, need to be both sensitive and aware of the law, especially when it comes to natural hairstyles that express an employee’s identity and culture. The alternative may be defending your business against allegations that your policy is discriminatory and in violation of California law.  

California law protects employees’ hair and hairstyles – The CROWN Act (Creating a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair)

California was the first state to pass the “Creating a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair” Act, or CROWN Act. Since its passage, over a dozen other states have signed it into law or drafted similar legislation. Steps to make the CROWN ACT a federal law are also underway. The CROWN Act forbids employers from establishing any kind of dress code, hair restrictions or hygiene policies that target people of color. Mostly, however, the CROWN Act prohibits businesses from banning any of the following of your employees’ hairstyles: 

  • Braids 
  • Twists 
  • Afros 
  • Cornrows 
  • Dreadlocks 
  • Bantu knots 

Your policies may include restrictions that are for your employees’ protection, such as requiring hair nets when long or braided hair poses a risk to employee safety. However, policies may not require employees to cut or style their hair on the basis of what is or is not professional. Policies also cannot set different standards of professionalism for men than they do for women.  

Businesses cannot treat an employee adversely based on their hair style. This includes giving an employee a poor performance review, sending an employee home, preventing employees from dealing with customers or harassing an employee due to the way they wear their hair.

If your employee policies for dress and hygiene forbid certain hairstyles, it is time for you to review those policies and revise them when necessary.