California is home to great jobs and diverse populations. It is what makes living and working here so special. Alongside these great career opportunities are laws that help regulate employment practices. These laws are designed to allow for productive and respectful work environments regardless of the industry – it could be retail, hospitality, medical facilities, or any other type of business or workplace.
One critical area of the law is protection from workplace discrimination, which is a serious issue that undermines equal opportunities, fosters an unhealthy work environment, and violates the law. In California, both employers and employees have a responsibility to identify and prevent discrimination in the workplace. If someone is unlawfully discriminated against, it is important to address it immediately. Here’s what to know and how to handle it.
Understanding Workplace Discrimination
In California, workplace discrimination is regulated by the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), which prohibits discrimination and harassment based on protected characteristics. The following forms of discrimination are considered unlawful in California:
- Discrimination based on race, color, ancestry, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, marital status, age, disability, or genetic information
- Harassment, which includes unwanted comments, jokes, gestures, or other offensive behavior based on any of the protected characteristics mentioned above
- Retaliation for opposing discriminatory practices, filing a complaint, or participating in an investigation regarding workplace discrimination
- Denial of reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities or religious beliefs, unless it would impose an undue hardship on the employer
- Employment decisions based on stereotypes or assumptions related to any of the protected characteristics
- Segregation or classification of employees in a way that limits their opportunities or benefits based on protected characteristics
California’s laws provide broader protections compared to federal laws. The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) is responsible for enforcing these laws.
Identifying Workplace Discrimination
To identify workplace discrimination, you must understand what a protected class is. Under California law, it is illegal to discriminate against individuals based on protected characteristics, which include a person’s:
- Race, color
- Religion (includes religious dress and grooming practices)
- Sex/gender (includes pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding or related medical condition)
- Gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation
- Marital status
- Medical Condition (genetic characteristics, cancer or a record or history of cancer)
- Military or veteran status
- National origin (includes language use and possession of a driver’s license issued to people unable to prove their presence in the United State is authorized under federal law)
- Disability (mental and physical including HIV/AIDS and cancer)
- Request for family care leave
- Request for leave for an employee’s own serious health condition
- Request for Pregnancy Disability Leave
- Age (over 40)
Keeping these characteristics in mind can help you protect yourself and others because it allows you to recognize potential instances of discrimination. The hard part is not identifying the characteristic but recognizing the manifestation of discrimination. Oftentimes discrimination is subtle and even unintentional. Discrimination can manifest in various forms, including but not limited to:
- Hiring bias
- Unequal pay (e.g., men paid more by the hour than women for the same work)
- Denial of promotions or opportunities
- Retaliation (e.g., reduced work hours after returning from medical leave)
- Creation of a hostile work environment
Regardless of whether you are the employer or an employee, be vigilant and aware of behaviors or policies that may create or perpetuate discrimination in the workplace.
As an employer or person in a management position, you have certain obligations under California law. Compliance of these employment and labor laws will help you prevent, minimize, and manage workplace discrimination.
First, it is important to establish clear anti-discrimination policies. Employers should develop comprehensive anti-discrimination policies that explicitly state their commitment to equal opportunity and outline the consequences of discriminatory behavior. These policies should be communicated to all employees and strictly enforced.
Anti-discrimination training is critical as well. Regularly conduct training sessions for employees to educate them about workplace discrimination, its impact, and how to prevent it. Training should cover topics such as unconscious bias, respectful communication, and fostering inclusive work environments.
Employers also want to make sure they are implementing fair hiring and promotion practices. Assess your hiring and promotion processes to ensure they are fair, transparent, and based on merit. Avoid any practices that may perpetuate bias or exclude qualified individuals from protected classes. Utilize diverse candidate pools and employ objective criteria when making employment decisions.
Finally, it is always important to ensure employees are supported. You can do this by promoting a work culture that celebrates diversity and inclusion. Foster an environment where employees feel safe reporting incidents of discrimination and harassment. Encourage open communication, respect for differences, and a zero-tolerance approach towards discrimination.
Addressing the Issue
If you are an employee and believe you have experienced discrimination, report it promptly to your supervisor, human resources department, or designated reporting channels within your organization. Follow the established procedures for reporting and document all incidents, including dates, times, witnesses, and any supporting evidence.
If internal reporting does not resolve the issue or if you experience retaliation for reporting, seek legal advice from our employment attorney who focuses on workplace discrimination law at Omni Law P.C. We will assess your situation, explain your rights, and guide you through the legal process. In fact, before a lawsuit can be filed, you must first file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). These agencies investigate discrimination claims and may pursue legal action on your behalf. If they do not pursue legal action on your behalf, then you can do so on your own or through your workplace discrimination attorney.
Keep in mind that to be successful, it is critical to maintain documentation. Keep a record of all incidents, communications, and responses related to the discrimination complaint. This documentation will be used to support your case.
Discrimination is detrimental to individuals and organizations alike. By understanding the protected classes, recognizing different forms of discrimination, implementing preventive measures, and taking prompt action when discrimination occurs, employers and employees in California can contribute to fostering inclusive, respectful, and discrimination-free work environments.