Tennessee Prohibits Hairstyle Discrimination

SPB Blog Hairstyle Discrimination

Maybe it’s not “top of mind” for you, but in recent years there’s been a new battle in the fight against discrimination and in the past month it became the law here in Tennessee. If you haven’t heard of the “CROWN Act” before now, it’s time to get caught up!

A Brief History

“CROWN” is short for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair.” The need for the law is based on discrimination against workers based on a person’s hair texture or hairstyle if that texture or style is commonly associated with a specific race or national origin.

In 2019, California led the nation by becoming the first state to enact the CROWN Act, effectively outlawing discrimination based on a person’s hairstyle. As of this writing, 18 states have enacted some form of legislation that mirrors it.

Tennessee’s legislature passed our version of the law in April 2022 with Governor Bill Lee signing it into law on May 27. It became effective on July 1.

What It Does

Under the law, employers cannot have a policy that prohibits any employees from “wearing their hair in braids, locs, twists, or another style that is either part of the cultural identification of their ethnic group or a physical characteristic of their ethnic group.”

It does NOT apply to public safety employees if their hairstyle would prevent them from performing essential job functions. It also would not negate policies that employers have to adopt to follow common safety standards within their industry, or if they have to maintain “reasonable safety measures, or comply with federal or state health or safety laws, regulations, or rules.” (Gusto)

What It Means To Employers

How it affects you and your business is going to depend entirely upon what your business is, of course. If you are in an industry that requires specific safety practices, you may qualify for an exemption as noted above…but should you?

For the majority of employers, there will be some reasonable accommodation that can be made for employees to be able to style and wear their hair as they see fit, while still adhering to safety standards—perhaps having the hair covered or controlled effectively to make it safer.

You should review and revise your policies to make sure they are not unlawfully prohibiting natural or cultural hairstyle, including “indirect restrictions” like requiring the hair to be less than a certain length.

It will also be important to train your managers and supervisors that making hiring decisions. They will not be allowed to make judgements about “professionalism or cultural fit based on an employee’s hairstyle.”

It’s also important to make sure no one in your company allows unconscious biases to negatively affect hiring qualified candidates or the treatment of current employees.

(Some information for this article was adapted from a Gusto HR Newsletter. If you would like to talk to us about adding Gusto’s payroll and HR services to your company, please call 423-207-2497.)

Tennessee Prohibits Hairstyle Discrimination