February 12, 2019 Category: Race Discrimination
California has some of the most wide-ranging anti-discrimination laws in the country. A new bill moving through the state legislature seeks to add even more protections for Californians. Under SB 188, the Fair Housing and Employment Act would prohibit discrimination against a person because of the texture of their hair or hairstyle. The new protections would apply to decisions regarding employment and housing.
Discrimination Protections Under the California Fair Housing and Employment Act
The Fair Housing and Employment Act (FHEA) is California’s primary anti-discrimination law. Under the FHEA, it is “unlawful to engage in specific discriminatory employment practices…based on certain protected characteristics.” Some of the protected characteristics that currently exist under the FHEA include:
Employers are prohibited from making adverse employment decisions based on these characteristics unless a “bona fide occupational qualification or applicable security regulation” exists. In other words, employers have to have a very good reason for even considering an applicant’s or employee’s race, gender, or other protected characteristic when making certain decisions.
Hairstyle Protections Proposed to Enhance Anti-Discrimination Protections
Hairstyle discrimination isn’t new. For decades, black and minority employees have experienced repercussions at work for wearing “traditional Black hairstyles.” Many employees have even been fired for expressing themselves and their culture through their hair. This is a problem that white and non-minority employees simply don’t have to deal with in their everyday lives.
An employee shouldn’t have to decide between their hairstyle and their job. They shouldn’t face consequences at work for expressing themselves. Hairstyle discrimination disproportionately affects non-white employees. As a result, it is essentially a form of racial discrimination. Under the current anti-discrimination laws, there’s nothing to prohibit employers from engaging in this type of race discrimination.
SB 188 would expand upon the protections extended under the FHEA. Specifically, the law would “provide that the definition of race also includes traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles.” Protective hairstyles would be defined to include, among other things, braids, locks, and twists.
Under the new law, employees would be free to express themselves through their hairstyles without fear of repercussions in the workplace.
Does This Mean Employers Can’t Have Grooming and Appearance Policies?
No. Employers can still design and implement grooming policies in the workplace. However, those policies must be neutral and non-discriminatory. The policies must be specific and apply equally to employees of all races, religions, and genders.
If any of the aspects of a grooming policy is unnecessarily burdensome or discriminatory against a particular group, the policy will be in violation of the law.
If passed, SB 188 will make it more difficult for employers to unnecessarily control and restrict employee self-expression. Employees who are the victims of race/hairstyle discrimination would have the right to challenge the policy and file a discrimination claim against their employer.