June 30, 2022

On June 30, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed the CROWN Act, a new law prohibiting employers from discriminating against employees because of race-based hairstyles and hair textures. The Illinois Senate and Illinois House of Representatives passed Senate Bill 3616, also known as the CROWN (Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair) Act, in April 2022.

The CROWN Act broadens the definition of "race" in the Illinois Human Rights Act (IHRA) to include "traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles such as braids, locks, and twists." The amended definition applies to all areas covered by the IHRA, including housing, public accommodations, education, and real estate transactions.

Certain workplace dress codes and grooming policies, such as those prohibiting natural hair or protective hairstyles, impose a disparate impact on Black women in particular. Delaware, which passed its own CROWN Act in 2021, cited in the synopsis of its legislation a 2019 study that found the following:

  1. Black women are 80% more likely to change their natural hair to meet social norms or expectations at work.
  2. Black women are 50% more likely to be sent home or know of another Black woman sent home from work because of her hair.
  3. Black women are 30% more likely to be made aware of a formal workplace appearance policy.

In August 2021, Governor Pritzker signed into law a similar bill, SB 817, which prohibits schools from issuing policies on hairstyles historically associated with race or ethnicity. That law, which took effect January 1, 2022, only applies to discrimination in schools.

By enacting the CROWN Act, Illinois joins a long list of states and municipalities that have passed their own versions of this law. California led the movement in 2019, becoming the first state to pass such legislation. Since then, dozens of states and local jurisdictions have enacted their own CROWN Act or have passed such legislation and await its enactment. At the federal level, in March 2022, the United States House of Representatives passed a version of the CROWN Act, which is currently pending in the Senate.

Action Item: Employers should review their dress code and grooming policies to ensure they comply with these CROWN laws that are emerging nationwide. Employers may also consider offering bias prevention training to educate employees about compliance changes related to recent legislation and these newly protected traits. Much's labor and employment attorneys are available to help ensure your workplace is compliant with these laws that foster a safer, more welcoming workplace for all.

This article contains material of general interest and should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion on any specific facts or circumstances. Under applicable rules of professional conduct, this content may be regarded as attorney advertising.