Know Your Rights: Anti-Discrimination Laws for Natural + Protective Hairstyles

In the workforce, a common expectation found across a wide variety of industries is the concept of professionalism. Professionalism, as defined by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), is “knowing work environments differ greatly, understanding and demonstrating effective work habits, and acting in the interest of the larger community and workplace.” Professionalism is also often extended to how one presents oneself in the workplace, such as following dress codes.  

All too often, “professional” dress codes are exclusionary in nature, particularly when it comes to hair. Historically, many professional and school dress codes have outright banned protective and natural hairstyles commonly associated with Black and brown hair textures and hair care such as dreadlocks, cornrows, box braids, curls, and afros. In spaces where natural hairstyles are not outright banned, many Black and brown professionals still face workplace discrimination and harassment on the basis of their hair not being “professional.” To combat this form of racial discrimination, many states have introduced a law banning such discrimination in the workplace and in schools.  

This law, known as the CROWN (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) Act, has been codified in 24 states as of June 2023. The states in which the CROWN Act has been signed into law include Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Washington. The CROWN Act protects against hair-centered racial discrimination in these states by expanding the definition of race in employment to encompass hair texture and protective hairstyles, and also includes expression of religion to protect against discrimination against people who wear hijabs, turbans, head scarves, wigs, etc.  

It’s helpful to know your rights as a worker in the U.S. and what protections against racial discrimination exist within states that you’re interested in working in. If you have questions or concerns about racism in the workplace or want advice in navigating the career development or job search process, you can make an appointment with one of our career coaches here.  

By Avery Caya
Avery Caya Graduate Assistant, CLAS/Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (They/Them/Theirs)