Powerhouse Points: Employers Need to Prepare for Illinois Crown Act

Written by Partners Erin McAdams Franzblau and Jennifer M. Huelskamp for the Summer 2022 Edition of Powerhouse Points,  A Quarterly Litigation Update.

Read the full issue here.

Powerhouse Points:

  • Illinois Employers Should: 
    • Review dress code policies and procedures with legal counsel to ensure they comply with the new Illinois law;
    • Consider whether they have a nondiscriminatory reason (such as a bona fide occupational qualification) to impose a certain grooming or dress-code requirement; and
    • Train managers accordingly.

Earlier this year, the U.S. House passed the CROWN Act, which would prohibit employment discrimination against employees and applicants based on hairstyles traditionally associated with one’s race. The CROWN Act stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair” Act and is now with the U.S. Senate for a vote, although its future is uncertain. Several states have also already implemented their own versions of the CROWN Act and, here in, Illinois a similar law is in the works.

An amendment to the Illinois Human Rights Act was passed January 1, 2022, which created a quasi-CROWN Act as it relates to schools. Senate Bill 817 prohibits schools from issuing policies on hairstyles historically associated with race or ethnicity. Specifically, it prevents school boards, local school councils, charter schools, and elementary and secondary schools from creating hairstyle-based dress code requirements. The bill also requires the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) to provide schools with educational resource materials to teach about protective hairstyles. 
As it relates to Illinois employers, on April 9, 2022, the Illinois Senate passed House Amendment 1 to SB 3616, joining the Illinois House in unanimously passing legislation referred to as the Illinois CROWN Act. Governor J.B. Pritzker then signed the bill into law on June 30, 2022, creating a new definition of “race” under the Illinois Human Rights Act (IHRA). The new definition now includes “traits associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles such as braids, locks, and twists.” 

Illinois joins 13 other states with similar CROWN laws, including California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Virginia, and Washington. As such, Illinois employers should be aware of the CROWN Act at the state level now and review applicable policies and procedures with legal counsel in order to ensure that they are in line with the requirements of this new law.