- Discrimination based on hair texture, type and hairstyles such as braids, locks and twists will be illegal in Virginia starting July 1. Gov. Ralph Northam signed a bill on March 4 that "clarifies" that when the law bans discrimination "on the basis of race," that includes "traits historically associated with race, including hair texture, hair type, and protective hairstyles such as braids, locks, and twists."
- The move makes Virginia the fourth state to enact such a law. California became the first state to ban discrimination based on hair when it passed the CROWN Act (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) in 2019. New York and New Jersey also approved their own versions of the CROWN Act and it's been introduced in several other states. Some localities have also grappled with the issue of hair discrimination.
- Capitol Hill lawmakers are considering similar legislation.
The CROWN Act and similar legislation may encourage employers to relax their workplace guidelines and expectations. At worst, policies that restrict personal style choices, unless mandated for specific safety situations, may create opportunities for discrimination. And at best, they can signal rigidity, something that may turn away younger workers who expect to bring their whole selves to work, one source previously told HR Dive.
The CROWN Act and similar policies reflect the expectations of younger workers that they will be accepted as they are, Wendy Williams, HR generalist at Duff & Phelps Investment Company, previously told HR Dive. However, many organizations have long had workplace grooming policies in place aimed at dealing with safety issues, especially for those who work with machinery.
Although companies may invoke certain grooming and dress standards for safety reasons, companies should figure out how to be inclusive and accommodate employees without compromising safety, sources have said.
In crafting a policy, employers shouldn't go overboard. Laura Fant, an associate in the Labor and Employment Law Department at Proskauer Rose LLP, told HR Dive in an earlier interview that "overly detailed" policies are a common misstep. For example, she said, if long hair poses a safety hazard in the workplace, instead of listing specific types of hairstyles that pose a risk, employers should simply state that hair must be shorter than a certain length or secured at all times.