Showing once again its willingness to break new ground in enacting employee protections, California will soon ban discrimination based on certain hairstyles. Senate Bill 188, signed by Governor Newsom on July 3, 2019, expands the definition of “race” in the Fair Employment and Housing Act. Specifically, the following paragraphs will be added to Cal. Gov’t Code § 12926 effective January 1, 2020:
(w) “Race” is inclusive of traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles.
(x) “Protective hairstyles” includes, but is not limited to, such hairstyles as braids, locks, and twists.
So what are we talking about here? Certainly Afros and other natural hairstyles are protected. So are braids, which consist of three (or more) intertwined strands of hair. Locks are rope-like strands of hair that can be created in a number of ways, including coiling, braiding, or palm rolling. As for twists, they’re formed by twisting strands of hair and then twisting two twisted strands around one another. Keep in mind, however, that these are only examples. In fact, the definition of “traits historically associated with race” isn’t limited to hairstyles. What else it may include is anyone’s guess.
What should employers do? If you have dress code or grooming policies, make sure that they comply with the new law. More broadly, make sure that your managers understand that they can’t rely on Eurocentric standards of professionalism in deciding who to hire or promote.