Wave of New Hairstyle Discrimination Laws Passed

Author: Emily Scace, Brightmine Legal Editor

June 7, 2022

Several states have joined the growing list of jurisdictions that prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of hair texture, natural hairstyles or other physical characteristics associated with race.

Maine's S.B. 237, which takes effect August 8, amends the state's definition of race under its Human Rights Act to include hair texture, Afro hairstyle, protective hairstyles and other traits associated with race. A protective hairstyle includes, but is not limited to, braids, locks and twists.

In a similar vein, the Tennessee CROWN Act, signed by the governor on May 27, prohibits employers from adopting a policy that does not permit an employee to wear their hair in braids, locks, twists or another manner that is a physical characteristic of, or culturally identified with, the employee's ethnic group.

The bill includes exceptions for:

  • Public safety employees if an employee's hairstyle would prevent the employee from performing essential functions of the employee's job; and
  • Policies that employers adopt for reasonable safety reasons or to comply with federal or state health or safety laws, rules or regulations.

The Tennessee law takes effect July 1, 2022.

Three additional states have similar bills nearing enactment:

  • Illinois S.B. 3616 was sent to Governor J.B. Pritzker on May 6. If signed, it would take effect January 1, 2023.
  • In Louisiana, H.B. 1083 has passed both chambers of the legislature but has not yet been sent to the governor.
  • Massachusetts H.B. 4554 has passed the state Senate and is awaiting concurrence in the House.