By: Tyler D. Kring
On nearly a daily basis, our firm analyzes claims related to alleged “discrimination” in the workplace. Routinely, we must clarify the difference between what an individual believes to be discrimination and what California labor law says is illegal discrimination.
The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (“DFEH”) enforces laws that protect individuals from illegal discrimination and harassment in the workplace through the Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”). In order to be considered illegal, FEHA requires that such discrimination be based off an individual’s actual or perceived protected category. For quite some time, such protected categories were limited to ancestry, age, disability, marital status, national origin, race, religion, sex/gender, among a few others.
On July 3, 2019, California enacted the Creating a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair Act (“CROWN Act”), becoming the first state to outlaw racial discrimination based on hairstyle and thereby expanding FEHA and its associated protected categories. The new law takes effect January 1, 2020 and updates the definition of “race” used in existing law to be “inclusive of traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles.” The updated definition includes, but is not limited to, hairstyles such as dreadlocks, cornrows, braids, and Afros.
The CROWN Act is a result of many employer and school policies banning, limiting, or restricting certain hair and grooming styles. While such policies may have been created with a race-neutral intention, their resulting effect often has a disproportionate impact on people of color.
With January 1 just around the corner, employers should be prepared and are encouraged to review and revise their Employee Handbooks and employment policies with an employment attorney. Employees should be well-aware of their rights going forward under the CROWN Act and FEHA.
Tyler D. Kring is an Associate at Kring & Chung, LLP. He can be reached at (949) 261-7700.
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