Massachusetts has become the latest state to pass its own version of the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair ("CROWN") Act, prohibiting discrimination based on race-related hairstyles in the workplace, schools, and places of public accommodation.

On July 26, 2022, Governor Charlie Baker signed H.4554, adding the protected class of "natural or protective hairstyle" within several statutes, including the anti-discrimination law (G.L. Chapter 151B) and the public accommodations law (G.L. Chapter 272, Section 98). "Natural or protective hairstyle" is defined to mean "hair texture, hair type and hairstyles, which shall include, but not be limited to, natural and protective hairstyles such as braids, locks, twists, Bantu knots and other formations."

The Act takes effect on October 24, 2022 (90 days after the Governor's signature). The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination will be responsible for enforcing these protections in the workplace.

Similar to the 17 other states that have passed a CROWN Act, the legislation in Massachusetts has its origin in a number of highly publicized incidents related to grooming policies or hairstyle rules in various settings, including one prominent instance in which a Massachusetts school came into the spotlight for punishing two Black students for wearing hair extensions. Ever since California became the first state to pass a CROWN Act in 2019, the movement to protect natural hairstyles has continued to grow and is expected to make its way through more state legislatures in the future.

The U.S. House has passed a federal version of the Crown Act, but the U.S. Senate has not taken up the bill to date. President Biden has stated that he would sign the bill if it passes the Senate.

Massachusetts employers should take this opportunity to review their employee handbooks and related policies governing the dress and appearance of employees. Employers should refrain from banning certain natural hairstyles outright. However, if certain workspaces require such restrictions for health and safety reasons, non-discriminatory accommodations should be considered and implemented if feasible. Additionally, managers or other personnel with hiring, supervisory, or training responsibilities should be advised of these new protections so as to avoid risk of violations.

Please reach out to your Seyfarth attorney with any questions.

Adrienne Lee is a Summer Fellow with Seyfarth

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