It’s Time for Illinois Employers to Groom Their Policies
On January 1, 2023, the CROWN Act went into effect in IL. The CROWN ACT, which stands for “Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair”, is not actually a separately written law, rather it amends and expands the pre-existing Illinois Human Rights Act (IHRA) which categorizes traits such as hair texture or protective styling as race-based and therefore protected under bans against racial discrimination. When it was signed by Governor Pritzker in July of 2022, Illinois became the 17th state to enact the Crown Act, shortly after Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (R) also passed the CROWN Act in his state and in Alaska the bill awaits Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s (R) signature. A complete list of states that have passed the CROWN Act can be found here.
What is the CROWN Act?
The IHRA prohibits employers from discriminating against any individual based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, ancestry, age, order of protection status, marital status, physical or mental disability, military status, sexual orientation, pregnancy, or unfavorable discharge from military service in connection with employment, real estate transactions, access to financial credit, and the availability of public accommodations. (775 ILCS 5/1-102(a)).
The 2022 amendment, commonly referred to as the CROWN Act, specifically expands the definition of “race” under the IHRA to further the purpose of preventing unlawful discrimination in Illinois. Race is now defined under the IHRA as “traits associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles such as braids, locks, and twists.”
In an employment context, this means that employers cannot discriminate against an individual based on the way they wear their hair. The actual text of the CROWN Act covers hair traits “associated with race, including, but not limited to,” and continues on to list hair textures and protective styles as examples. So, the provided examples are not intended to be an exhaustive list of potentially protected hair traits.
What do Illinois employers need to do to comply with the CROWN Act?
Illinois Employers should keep an open mind and be wary of limiting hairstyles and textures in the workplace. While Employers can still maintain a dress code or grooming policy that restricts attire, clothing or facial hair to maintain workplace safety or food sanitation, employers should evaluate any existing grooming and personal appearance policies to ensure they comply or at least allow employees to wear their hair in protective hairstyles and textures that can be associated with race. Requiring employees to wear specific hairstyles, or even prohibiting hair of a certain length, could be a violation of the IHRA.
The Background of the CROWN Act
The CROWN Act follows the Jett Hawkins Act enacted in 2021 which prevents school boards, local school councils, charter schools, public schools and nonpublic elementary and secondary schools from creating hairstyle-based dress code requirements and banning hairstyles historically associated with any race or ethnicity. In 2021 then 4-year-old Jett Hawkins was told that his braids (and other subsequent hairstyles) were in violation of the dress code policy at his school in Chicago. Jett’s hair got him into trouble at school, which prompted his mother to raise awareness of stigmatizing children’s hair and advocated that hair is an extension of individuals, race, and identity. Jett’s story ultimately gained the attention of Senator Mike Simmons who sponsored the bill creating the Jett Hawkins Act.
Hair discrimination has cropped up across the country, including in Massachusetts when two 15-year-old sisters were suspended from school over their braid extensions. A similar situation occurred in Alabama when an insurance company refused to hire a Black woman because of her dreadlocks, which the company said was in violation of its grooming policies. The company said she would need to cut her dreadlocks as a condition of her employment.
Beauty brand Dove conducted a study in 2019 which found Black women’s hair is more policed in the workplace than non-Black women. About 80 percent of women surveyed agreed with the statement that they had to change their hair from its natural state to fit in at the office. Dove also found that Black women are 1.5 times more likely to be sent home from their workplace because of their hair and 83 percent more likely to report being judged harshly on her looks than other women.
“No Illinoisan should face discrimination based off the way they style their hair. Not in schools. Not in the workplace. Not anywhere,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “Hair isn’t just deeply personal—it’s inherently cultural, passing down thousands of years of history from generation to generation. Hair discrimination isn’t just a microaggression—it’s racist. And it’s past time we prohibit it. I am proud to sign the CROWN Act into state law, protecting our Black residents’ right to style their hair however they choose.”
“The implementation of the CROWN Act has been a long time coming, and I am confident that this legislation will protect Black people from petty discrimination because of their hair,” said Majority Caucus Chair Mattie Hunter (D-Chicago). “This law will ensure that those who wear their hair natural or in locs will be empowered, and not to be judged by the way they wear their hair, but the content of their character.”
Could the CROWN Act become Federal Law?
Though the future of the CROWN Act remains uncertain in Congress, President Biden said in March that, “no person should be denied the ability to obtain a job, succeed in school or the workplace, secure housing or otherwise exercise their rights based on a hair texture or hair style.” Biden indicated that he would work with Congress to pass the CROWN Act and sign the bill into law.
If you need assistance with your business’s employee policies or would like to schedule an initial consultation, please contact Navigant Law Group, LLC at (847) 253-8800 or email us at email@example.com.
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