On December 29, 2019, New Jersey became the third state to ban hairstyle discrimination, joining California and New York. The new law, the Create a Respectful and Open Workspace for Natural Hair Act (“CROWN Act”), amends the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“NJLAD”).
The CROWN Act adds “traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture, hair type, and protective hairstyles,” to the definition of race under the NJLAD. This amendment essentially codifies a New Jersey Division on Civil Rights guidance which stated that “hairstyles closely associated with Black people” including “twists, braids, cornrow, Afros, locs, Bantu knots, and fades,” are now considered protected racial characteristics under the NJLAD. The new law also protects hairstyles associated with particular religions such as payot worn by Orthodox Jewish men and Sikh persons who wear uncut hair. The new law makes it illegal to target people at work, school, or other places of public accommodation based on these traits.
New Jersey employers need to review their workplace grooming and appearance policies to ensure compliance with the CROWN Act. Employers may consider diversity and inclusion training for individuals responsible for drafting or enforcing grooming policies. In addition, with a growing number of states and cities enacting hairstyle discrimination bans, employers throughout the country are advised to review these policies to prevent any potential discriminatory language or enforcement.