Employment Discrimination in California

Any employee who has experienced being discriminated at work may be eligible to file a workplace discrimination claim. It is illegal for employment discrimination to take place in California under both federal and state laws. Federal law prohibits workplace discrimination for protected classes, which include membership of a religion, race (including Caucasian), gender, ethnicity, disability and age over 40 years.

Apart from workplace discrimination connected to race and ethnicity, federal workplace discrimination laws apply to employers that employ 15 or more employees, and 20 or more for age discrimination. There is at present no minimum number of employees required for claims of workplace discrimination based on race or ethnicity. California has its own state laws covered by the California Fair Employment and Housing Act which also protects employees in smaller workplaces.

What kind of discrimination laws are in place in California?

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act enforces laws that make it illegal for an employer to apply workplace discrimination due to the following employee categories:

  • age,
  • ancestry,
  • color,
  • gender expression,
  • gender identity,
  • gender,
  • genetic information,
  • marital status,
  • medical condition,
  • mental disability,
  • military and veteran status of any person,
  • national origin,
  • physical disability,
  • race,
  • religious creed,
  • sex,
  • sexual orientation.

In addition to the above categories, workplace discrimination against people who possess a genetic hereditary disease is illegal and also testing employees for genetic features. An employer may not limit or prevent employees from using any language they wish in the workplace unless there is a specific business reason to impose a restriction.

California Discrimination Laws

Workers in California have strong protections against discrimination thanks to several different laws at the state level. There are several national laws that protect workers from discrimination like Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act. But some states go further to protect employees from discrimination at work, and California is one of them.

But California also has its own laws that protect workers from discrimination. When you file a complaint with the EEOC the EEOC will share information with the California labor authorities so that the state can investigate to see if they violated any state laws.

In California, there are two main laws that prohibit workplace discrimination. These laws include the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (CFEHA) and The California Family Rights Act. The California Family Rights Act says that no California employer with more than five employees can deny an employee leave to take care of a sick or injured child or family member.

If employees need to take leave the employer can’t retaliate against them when they come back. They also can’t fire the employee, demote them, or move them to a different type of position. And if the employee is due for a raise during the period they are on leave they still must be given that raise.

California takes workplace rights seriously and encourages people who have experienced discrimination to file a complaint with the EEOC and with the state. California employers that violate employee’s rights and engage in discrimination could have to pay large fines or even face charges and penalties.

Who is protected by federal and state laws in California?

The federal laws that protect employees from discrimination are based on race, disability, age, sex, gender and religion. These are called ‘protected classes’. In addition to federal protected classes there are many additional protected classes protected under California’s state specific workplace discrimination laws, one of which is not being able to stop employees choosing the language they speak at work.

What employers are covered by discrimination laws in California?

Some of the federal workplace discrimination laws that affect California employers are:

  • Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not allow workplace discrimination due to an employee’s or job applicant’s race, color, sex, religion or national origin. This law applies to public and private employers who employ at least 15 employees, employment agencies, unions and apprenticeship programs.
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not permit disability discrimination in both public services and accommodations.
  • The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) does not permit employment discrimination for workers over 40 years of age. The coverage by the ADEA is similar to Title VII except that a private employer needs 20 employees to be covered.
  • 42 U.S.C. section 1981 federal law which does not permit race discrimination in all contracts, which not only includes employment but also all other kinds of contracts too.

California’s workplace discrimination statute covers some of the smaller employers not protected by federal law who have between 5 and 14 employees or one or more for an harassment claim.

Which California agencies regulate these laws?

 The state administrative agency is called the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) and is the agency that processes breaches of California’s workplace discrimination laws. The federal agency, the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC), covers breaches of federal workplace discrimination laws.

How do I file a discrimination claim in California?

In California, a workplace discrimination claim can be filed either with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) or the federal agency, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). These two agencies have a “work-sharing agreement,” which means that the two agencies cooperate with one another when processing claims.

How long do I have to file an employment discrimination claim in California?

The statute of limitations used in California state law or cross filed with the EEOC is 12 months from the date of the workplace discrimination.  If the claim falls under federal law, you must file your claim with the EEOC (or cross-file with the DFEH within 300 days of the date the workplace discrimination took place.

How do I get help filing an employment discrimination claim in California?

If the EEOC or the DFEH are unable to settle your workplace discrimination claim, in order to be sure you get the best outcome to your California claim you should consult an employment lawyer. The lawyer will work on your behalf to get the right settlement for you by filing a lawsuit in court.            

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