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Update And Clarification To Legal Update Regarding Massachusetts CROWN Act – Health & Safety



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As we reported last week, on July 26, 2022, Governor
Baker signed into law Massachusetts’ own version of the
Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair
(“CROWN”) Act, prohibiting discrimination based on
race-related hairstyles in the workplace, schools, and places of
public accommodation.

Due to the unique and complex nature of the Commonwealth’s
bill amendment process, there were conflicting reports of the final
version of the bill signed by the Governor. We have tracked down
the actual final language signed by the Governor and want to
clarify and correct a few items regarding this new law. Governor
Baker signed Chapter 117 of the Acts of 2022, which incorporated
amendments to H.4554, as contained within H.5028.

Technically, rather than creating a new independent protected
class of “natural or protective hairstyle”, as previously
reported, the final law expands the definition of “race”
across Massachusetts statutes, as applied to a prohibition on
discrimination based on race. Specifically, in G.L. Chapter 4,
section 7, “Race”, as applied to a prohibition on
discrimination based on race, is now defined to include
“traits historically associated with race, including, but not
limited to, hair texture, hair type, hair length and protective
hairstyles.” The law, in turn, defines “Protective
hairstyle” to include, without limitation, “braids,
locks, twists, Bantu knots, hair coverings and other
formations.”

By implication, this expanded definition of “race” is
thus incorporated into a number of statutes, including the
anti-discrimination law (G.L. Chapter 151B) and the public
accommodations law (G.L. Chapter 272, Section 98). The amended
version now expressly ties the protected hairstyles to hairstyle
“traits historically associated with race” and removes
some of the ambiguities contained in H.4554.

The amendments also provide that the Massachusetts Commission
Against Discrimination shall adopt, disseminate, amend and rescind
rules and regulations or formulate policies and make
recommendations as necessary to effectuate the purposes of these
new definitions.

The bottom line impact of the CROWN Act has not changed. As
previously stated, Massachusetts employers should take this
opportunity to review their employee handbooks and related policies
governing the dress and appearance of employees. Employers should
refrain from banning certain natural hairstyles outright. However,
if certain workspaces require such restrictions for health and
safety reasons, non-discriminatory accommodations should be
considered and implemented if feasible. Additionally, managers or
other personnel with hiring, supervisory, or training
responsibilities should be advised of these new protections so as
to avoid risk of violations.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.

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