A CROWNing Achievement for Massachusetts
By: Amanda Mathieu
On the heels of other jurisdictions that have enacted similar legislation over the past few years (see links below), Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed the CROWN Act into law on July 26, 2022, making Massachusetts the 18th state to enact such protections. The Massachusetts CROWN Act went into effect on October 24, 2022.
The CROWN Act (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) prohibits discrimination against natural hair and protective styles (including braids, locs, twists, or Bantu knots) in the workplace and in schools. As enacted in Massachusetts, the CROWN Act expands the definition of discrimination based on race by adding the term “natural or protective hairstyle” to the definition in various Massachusetts laws, including the Massachusetts Fair Employment Practices Act.
Massachusetts’ CROWN Act was spurred in part by a 2017 incident that made national news when students at a Massachusetts regional charter school were disciplined and prevented from participating in extracurriculars, including attending prom, when they wore braids with extensions, a style banned by the school’s policy.
Following the passage of the CROWN Act in Massachusetts, employers in the Bay State should carefully review their handbooks and employee policies – specifically policies related to employee appearance – to ensure that they do not violate new law, including updating previous policies that banned natural hairstyles. If health and safety reasons necessitate certain hairstyle restrictions for a particular employer, non-discriminatory accommodations should be implemented to the extent possible.
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RELATED: In California, Now Even Hair Is Protected, August 9, 2019; Hairstyle Laws Further Complicate the Landscape for Employers in 2020, January 30, 2020; Dear Employers, Read This to Avoid a Hairy Situation: Hairstyles Protected Under Colorado Anti-Discrimination Laws, March 23, 2021