The CROWN Act in America – what is it and what does it mean for an employer’s dress code?

No, the CROWN Act does not mean the United States is switching its governmental model to a monarchy anytime soon - but it does mean that employers need to be vigilant about their dress codes – including rules affecting hairstyles.  In 2019, California became the first state in the nation to pass a version of the CROWN Act – which stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair” – and seeks to prohibit hair-based race discrimination. The concern is that employer dress codes may unfairly limit hairstyles that are more naturally worn by people of color and which may be wrongfully viewed as unprofessional.  This results in sometimes subtle (sometimes not so subtle) race discrimination if the dress code restricts certain types of hairstyles – such as locs, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots, and Afros. In 2022, the U.S. House of Representatives passed its version of the CROWN Act.  While that Federal CROWN Act has not moved beyond the U.S. Senate, the issue is moving on and gaining traction.  Several additional states have passed some version of the CROWN Act – including:  New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, Colorado, Connecticut, Washington, Delaware, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Nebraska, Illinois, Maine, and Tennessee.  Other states, such as Massachusetts are in the process of debating and, likely passing, a CROWN Act.  Note that in some states the CROWN Act not only prohibits employment discrimination based on a particular hairstyle but prohibits any business from denying services based on such hairstyles.  As employers consider dress codes involving hairstyles, historical perspectives regarding what may or may not be a “professional” hairstyle should be reconsidered, while concurrently keeping in mind workplace safety, the goal of embracing a workplace that emphasizes equality and the goal of the providing customers with a positive experience.