By Jaimee K. Wellerstein, Esq.
By Annette M. Barber, Esq.

On July 3, 2019, California became the first state to ban discrimination against natural hair, including afros, braids, twists, and dreadlocks. Introduced by Sen. Holly J. Mitchell, Senate Bill 188 (SB 188) aims to “Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair” (the CROWN Act) by clarifying that traits historically associated with race, such as hair texture and hairstyle, be protected from discrimination in the workplace and schools. Governor Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 188 (SB 188), thereby amending the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and the California Education Code. The new law becomes effective January 1, 2020.

SB 188 will ensure protection against discrimination in the workplace based on hairstyles by prohibiting employers from enforcing grooming policies that disproportionately impact persons of color. SB 188 is more far-reaching than prior protections. While anti-discrimination laws presently protect an employee’s choice to wear an afro, afros are not the only presentation of natural Black hair.

What does this mean for California employers?

California employers should review their grooming policies to determine if they are racially neutral, or if changes need to be made to ensure that racially associated hairstyles such as afros, braids, locks (dreadlocks) and twists, are not prohibited. Also, employers should ensure that managers and supervisors, especially those involved in the hiring process, are trained to comply with this new requirement.

Taking adverse employment action against an applicant or an employee based on a racially associated hairstyle could subject employers to liability for race discrimination. Client preference will not be a feasible defense to prohibiting these soon-to-be protected natural hairstyles. Employers are advised to start planning now to ensure their policies and practices are in place by the January 1, 2020 implementation date.

Contact your attorneys at Bradley, Gmelich & Wellerstein LLP to assist in reviewing your anti-discrimination, grooming, or any other employment policies or procedures.

Jaimee Wellerstein Jaimee K. Wellerstein, Esq. is a Partner and the firm’s Employment Team Head. Representing employers in all aspects of employment law, Ms. Wellerstein collaborates with her clients to develop proactive business and legal strategies to try to avoid workplace conflict and employment disputes. She provides legal advice and counsel to numerous businesses, including conducting individualized training programs for both management and employees. Ms. Wellerstein performs internal audits of her clients’ employment practices to ensure compliance with the rapidly-changing world of employment laws, and guides investigations of employee allegations regarding harassment, discrimination, and employee misconduct.

When litigation cannot be avoided, Ms. Wellerstein aggressively defends her clients against employment law claims in the state and federal courts, as well as at administrative hearings, arbitrations, and mediations. Having defended numerous representative and individual lawsuits on behalf of her clients, Ms. Wellerstein is a skilled litigator and negotiator with a broad spectrum of experience upon which to draw.

A frequent speaker on numerous topics, including employment law and contract law, Ms. Wellerstein regularly conducts training seminars and programs for managers and employees in all areas of employment practices and policies.

Annette M Barber Annette M. Barber, Esq. joined the firm as Special Counsel after 17 successful years of employment with a global security company of 100,000 U.S. employees. As corporate employment counsel for the security company, Ms. Barber was involved in managing employment litigation and providing advice and counsel for management. She was then promoted to Corporate Vice President directing HR Compliance nationwide for all 50 states, Puerto Rico and Guam.

As Special Counsel, Ms. Barber works with employers to provide guidance on all employment related issues and specializes in assisting employers with staying compliant with the myriad of employment laws. She provides employers with the tools necessary to be proactive with compliance, including creating policies and procedures, employee handbooks and all employment related documents. Ms. Barber also performs internal compliance audits to assist employers in identifying vulnerabilities and establishing procedures to prevent potential liability. Ms. Barber presents on various employment related topics and creates workplace trainings to meet an employer’s specific needs. She is an experienced workplace investigator of harassment and discrimination claims and represents employers in defending against charges brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.