A heads up to employers on the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act of 2020 (CROWN Act)

On March 6, 2020, Governor Polis signed the CROWN Act into law.  The CROWN Act went into effect on September 14, 2020. Colorado is the fifth state to enact this legislation, which bans discrimination against hairstyles associated with a racial identity.  Other states that have enacted the CROWN Act include California, New York, New Jersey and Virginia.  A national law premised on the CROWN Act is pending in the U.S. Senate.

The new law adds race trait hairstyle to the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act (CADA). The CROWN Act bars discrimination based on “protective hairstyles” in public education, employment practices, housing, public accommodations and advertising.  “Protective hairstyle” is defined to include hairstyles such as “braids, locs, twists, tight coils or curls, cornrows, Bantu knots, afros, and headwraps.”  The Act further defines “race” to include “hair texture, hair type, or a protective hairstyle that is commonly or historically associated with race.”

The Act applies to discrimination in public education, employment practices, housing, public accommodations and advertising.

Considerations for Employers

The CROWN Act does not prevent employers from establishing grooming and other dress code policies in the workplace.  However, employers should now be mindful of their policies to make sure they do not directly target hairstyles associated with persons of color or religious denomination.  A blanket ban or restriction by employers of an employee’s “protected hairstyle” would violate CADA. Therefore, any grooming or dress code policy must have a valid, non-discriminatory basis and be applied consistently to all employees.

We recommend employers review their employee manuals and workplace policies to ensure such policies are non-discriminatory or have a disparate impact on employees who fall within the protected class.