SB 188 – Expands Nondiscrimination Laws To Protect Traits Historically Associated With Race, Including Hair Texture And Hairstyles

Category: Private Education
Date: Nov 11, 2019 10:49 AM

SB 188 extends California’s workplace discrimination protections to cover race-related traits, including hair.  The bill expands the definition of “race” under the Fair Employment and Housing Act.  Effective January 1, 2020, “race” will include “traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles.”  The law further specifies that “protective hairstyles” “includes, but is not limited to, such hairstyles as braids, locks, and twists.”  This change in the law includes protection from such discrimination against employees.

The bill appears primarily intended to prevent unequal treatment related to natural Black hairstyles.  The bill includes a legislative declaration that “Despite the great strides American society and laws have made to reverse the racist ideology that Black traits are inferior, hair remains a rampant source of racial discrimination with serious economic and health consequences, especially for Black individuals.”  The declaration also states that “Workplace dress code and grooming policies that prohibit natural hair, including afros, braids, twists, and locks, have a disparate impact on Black individuals as these policies are more likely to deter Black applicants and burden or punish Black employees than any other group.”

Although the bill specifically references Black hairstyles, the statutory changes it establishes may be broader.  For example, under the new statutory language, it appears employers are prohibited from discriminating based on any trait “historically associated with race.” 

Employers should ensure their policies (including, but not limited to, anti-harassment policies, dress codes and grooming standards) are updated in accordance with this change of law going into effect January 1, 2020.

(SB 188 amends Section 12926 of the Government Code and amends Section 212.1 of the Education Code.)

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