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Can your employer tell you to straighten your hair?

If you are Black, you may well have come across employers who took exception to your hairstyles. They may have expressed it directly or subtly, but the message was clear: They wanted you to change your hair to conform to their standards. The problem is those standards were probably based on hair belonging to people of more European descent than you.

Can they do this? Probably not, and here is why:

The CROWN ACT makes race-based hair discrimination illegal

In January 2020, California introduced the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act, or CROWN Act for short.

If your hair is naturally curly, your employer cannot tell you to straighten it. If you want to use braids, twists or locks, they cannot tell you to take them out. Provided that it is what’s deemed a natural hairstyle for you based on your race or culture. In other words, employers could still tell your white colleague of Irish and Latvian descent that dreadlocks are inappropriate for them. And they could still tell you that a neon-pink mohawk is a no-go.

What if your employer still tries to get you to change your hair?

If your employer continues complaining about what is a natural hairstyle for your race or culture, you might want to remind them it is illegal, and a court would likely see it as a form of racial discrimination. Some employers simply may not understand what the problem is as it has never affected them directly.  Or, if you need to, you can seek legal help to hold them to account.

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