Last week, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission ordered, and the state Independent Regulatory Review Commission approved, safeguards against discrimination for LGBTQ individuals and individuals with traditionally Black hairstyles and textures. Specifically, the regulation expands protections in employment, housing, and public accommodations.

The regulation is consistent with recent Supreme Court and other federal case law holding the term “sex” includes protection based on one’s gender identity and sexual orientation, including being perceived, presumed, or identified by others as having such an affectional or sexual orientation. Further, the regulation provides a comprehensive and expanded definition of the term “race,” including traits historically associated with race.  These include, but are not limited to, hair texture and hairstyles culturally associated with race, such as braids, locks, and twists. This definition is consistent with other state anti-discrimination laws, including laws in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and California.

Importantly, the regulation will affect employers, housing accommodation and commercial property entities, public accommodations, and educational institutions covered by the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act and the Pennsylvania Fair Education Opportunities Act.

The anti-bias regulation will proceed to the Pennsylvania Legislature for review. The regulation is set to take effect in 2023, unless state lawmakers vote to override the Commission in the 2023 session. Employers should pay close attention to the regulation and prepare to adhere to its provisions. Ballard Spahr’s Labor and Employment Group regularly advises clients on compliance with anti-discrimination laws, including ensuring that workplace policies and procedures are current and compliant.