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Ask the Hotline: The CROWN Act

Posted on August 5, 2022


We have a dress and grooming policy that requires employees to tie their hair back when they’re working around our machines.  I know we need to have this under OSHA.  I saw in the news that Massachusetts passed the CROWN Act.  Do we need to make a change to our policy?


It depends on the wording of your policy. You may want to include language in the policy saying that the company will discuss an accommodation if the policy prohibits, or appears to prohibit, certain hairstyles.

Massachusetts recently became the eighteenth state to have a law prohibiting discrimination based on hair texture and hairstyles in the workplace, schools, and places of public accommodation. On July 26, 2022, Governor Baker signed H.4554, Massachusetts’ version of the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair (“CROWN”) Act.

Rather than establishing a new protected category under the anti-discrimination law (M.G.L. c. 151B), the Massachusetts CROWN Act amends the definition of “race” in a section of the General Laws that defines terms used in all statutes (M.G.L. ch. 4, §7).  The amendment expands the prohibition on discrimination based on race to include “traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture, hair type, hair length and protective hairstyles.”

“Natural or protective hairstyle” is defined as “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.”

Massachusetts employers should review their employee handbooks and other workplace policies, including equal employment opportunity (EEO) and nondiscrimination policies. When dress and grooming policies restrict hairstyles for safety or health reasons, employers may have to provide exceptions under the CROWN Act.  Employers must engage in the interactive process and provide a non-discriminatory accommodation when feasible. Employers should also train managers, supervisors, and hiring personnel to ensure they are aware of these new protections so that they avoid violations.

The requirement of an interactive discussion about accommodations for dress and grooming policies is not new in Massachusetts.  In 2008, the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) sided with an employee whose hairstyle conflicted with the policy of his employer, Jiffy Lube.  The long-time employee was a Rastafarian whose religious beliefs prohibited shaving and cutting one’s hair.  When the company put a policy into effect requiring its technicians to be clean-shaven, the employee refused to comply based on his beliefs.  The SJC found that the company erred by not engaging in a discussion of possible accommodations of the employee’s religious practices, instead relegating the employee to the lower bay and out of contact with customers.  The new CROWN Act carries the same requirement, that the employer engage in an interactive dialogue with an employee whose hairstyle conflicts with a policy.

The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination is responsible for enforcing these new protections in the workplace.

AIM members with questions about the CROWN Act and its effect on policies and practices may call the AIM Employer Hotline at 800-470-6277.