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Can your employer punish you for your hairstyle?

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Employers in California typically have wide latitude to manage their workforces as they see fit. Nevertheless, they may not engage in workplace discrimination or harassment in violation of the law. While many employers dictate how employees must look at work, punishing you for your hairstyle may go too far.

Both federal and state laws make it illegal to discriminate against employees and applicants because of their race or ethnicity. Because some hairstyles and textures have close historical links to each of these protected classes, California law provides protections for certain hair types.

California’s CROWN Act

The Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair Act became law in California on January 1, 2020. The CROWN Act modifies California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act to update the state’s definition of racial discrimination. Specifically, racial discrimination now includes disparate treatment due to race-associated hair characteristics, such as texture or protective hairstyles.

Adverse employment action

Because of California’s CROWN Act, many employers cannot take adverse employment action against workers or applicants because of their race-associated hair. While termination of employment and refusal to hire are clearly off-limits, other negative employment actions may also violate the law. For example, your employer probably cannot refuse to promote you because of your protective hairstyle.

Retaliation

When employees complain about racial or ethnic discrimination, their employers sometimes retaliate against them. Retaliation may include termination of employment or subtler forms of punishment. Nevertheless, it is likely illegal for your employer to retaliate against you for filing a complaint or otherwise exercising your rights under the law.

Ultimately, if your employer uses your protective hairstyle or race-associated hair characteristics to treat you differently, you may be the victim of workplace discrimination. Acting quickly to assert your legal rights may be an effective way to save your job and protect your career.