New state law prohibits discrimination based on natural hairstyle

A new state law prohibits discrimination on the basis of hair textures or protective hairstyles that are historically associated with race. Senate Bill 188, also known as the CROWN Act, was signed in July by Gov. Gavin Newsom and will take effect Jan. 1, 2020.

California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act was amended by the law to include in the definition of race “traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles.” Protective hairstyles can include but are not limited to braids, locks and twists.

The preamble to the CROWN Act declares in part that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects against discrimination against afros but that“the courts do not understand that afros are not the only natural presentation of Black hair” and that workplace dress codes and grooming policies that prohibit natural hair “are more likely to deter Black applicants and burden and punish Black employees than any other group.”

“Practice owners should review their dress and grooming policies to ensure they are not discriminatory of natural hairstyles and revise the policies if needed,” said Michelle Corbo, employment practices analyst at CDA Practice Support.

California infection control regulations do not address hair; however, employers can still generally maintain policies that require employees to secure their hair for safety and hygienic reasons.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not have published guidelines about hair but does have recommendations for fingernail grooming and jewelry use in the dental care setting. These are: keep fingernails short with smooth, filed edges to allow thorough cleaning and prevent glove tears; do not wear artificial fingernails or extenders when having direct contact with patients at high risk; use of artificial fingernails is usually not recommended; and do not wear hand jewelry if it makes donning gloves more difficult or compromises the fit and integrity of the glove.

Visit the CDA Practice Support resource library for employment-related resources including a Sample Employee Manual and the Legal Reference Guide for California Dentists.

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