It was a pleasure to see so many of our clients and friends at our annual Labor & Employment Hot Topics seminar on December 5 and 10.
We covered several developments in New Jersey employment law that went into effect this past year or will soon become effective in 2020. I gave you a quick preview of New York and California legislation banning discrimination based on hairstyle and alerted everyone to keep an eye on this same issue in New Jersey. That alert was timely.
On December 19, 2019, just about two weeks after presenting this preview at the NM seminars, Governor Murphy signed into law S3945, also known as the “Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair Act” (CROWN Act).
As explained in the law, the CROWN Act is meant to address “discrimination against persons because of traits historically associated with race, particularly focused on discrimination based on hair texture and style.” This law amends the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination and is effective immediately. Going forward “race” is defined as “inclusive of traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture, hair type, and protective hair styles . . [including, but not limited to], such hairstyles as braids, locks, and twists.” As Governor Murphy explained: “Race-based discrimination will not be tolerated in the State of New Jersey….No one should be made to feel uncomfortable or be discriminated against because of their natural hair. I am proud to sign this law in order to help ensure that all New Jersey residents can go to work, school, or participate in athletic events with dignity.”
As I discussed at the seminars, previously, in September 2019, the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights issued “Guidance on Race Discrimination Based on Hairstyle,” which was intended to clarify how the DCR applies the NJLAD to discrimination based on hairstyles. At that time, however, there were no accompanying revisions to the NJLAD. With the enactment of the CROWN Act, the prohibition against hairstyle discrimination has been formalized. New Jersey is now the third state in the country to ban hairstyle discrimination. However, employers doing business in jurisdictions other than New Jersey, New York, and California, also need to stay alert to this issue for developments, as a number of other jurisdictions are considering similar legislation.
Given that the New Jersey law is effective immediately, New Jersey employers should review their policies and handbooks and consider any necessary updates. In addition, it will be important to train all employees, especially managers, supervisors, and human resources personnel, as to the requirements of the new law.