Recently, Tennessee became one of more than a dozen states and cities to pass its version of the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair (CROWN) Act. This article addresses what Tennessee employers need to know about the new workplace law.
Brief History of the CROWN Act
Championed as bringing equity and inclusion to African Americans, versions of the CROWN Act prohibit discrimination based on hair texture. Versions of the CROWN Act may also prohibit discrimination based on hairstyle, and, specifically, including styles such as afros, locs, twists, braids, Bantu knots, and other styles that African Americans may wear, especially as a connection to culture, religion, or history.
California became the first state to introduce the CROWN Act in July 2019, and, in the intervening years, several states and cities around the country have followed suit. The United States House of Representatives passed a federal version of the CROWN Act in March 2022, but that bill awaits approvals from the Senate (an uncertainty given the current political climate) before it can become a federal law.
Tennessee CROWN Act
The Tennessee version of the Crown Act prohibits employers from adopting a policy that prohibits employees from wearing their hair in braids, locs, twists, or another manner that is either (1) part of the cultural identification of the employee’s ethnic group or (2) a physical characteristic of the employee’s ethnic group. Employees can file complaints for violations with Tennessee’s Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development.
The CROWN Act requirements do not apply to policies affecting public safety employees, if a hairstyle would prevent the employee from performing their job’s essential functions. These requirements also do not apply to a policy that an employer must adopt to comply with industry safety standards or health or safety laws.
To comply with Tennessee’s CROWN Act, Tennessee employers may need to update their policies and handbooks, especially any restrictive grooming requirements or guidelines. Likewise, Tennessee employers may consider employee training on recognizing and eliminating discrimination based on hair. Employers uncertain about how to comply with the new law should contact an experienced employment attorney.