California Workplace Discrimination & Harassment 101 – What You Need to Know

As an employee in California, you have rights under both state and federal law that protect you from harassment and discrimination based on your belonging to a protected classification. For example, if you are a woman paid substantially less than male colleagues doing the same work, that’s a form of gender discrimination on the basis of sex – a protected class. Los Angeles employment lawyer

In fielding hundreds of inquiries over the years from California workers whose rights are being violated on-the-job, our Los Angeles employment attorneys want to ensure as many people as possible understand what exactly harassment, discrimination and retaliation is and how to best address it.

What is Workplace Discrimination? 

Discrimination is adverse treatment by an employer against workers who fall into a protected class. California employers are prohibited from discriminating against employees on the basis of:

  • Race
  • Color
  • National origin
  • Religion
  • Gender (including pregnancy, childbirth and related medical conditions)
  • Disability
  • Age
  • Citizenship status
  • Genetic information
  • Marital status
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender identity/expression
  • Military/veteran status
  • Status as a victim of domestic violence, stalking or assault

This is much more extensive than the federal law, and some cities in California have their own rules that extend protections even further.

Know that if you’re pursuing action under federal law, protections only apply in certain cases. In California, most protections apply ion cases where employers have 15 or more employees. However, there are some exceptions. For example, you can only sue for age discrimination if the company has more than 20 employees. Citizenship status discrimination applies in cases where workers have four or more employees.

What Qualifies as Workplace Harassment? 

Harassment is understood to be any unwelcome behaviors or unfair policies that adversely affect employees of a certain protected class.

These could include:

  • Sexual or racial slurs, name-calling, offensive jokes;
  • Verbal or physical assaults, threats, intimidation or ridicule;
  • Personal insults, offensive pictures or objects, other conduct directly interfering directly with an employee’s ability to do their jobs.

These actions cross the line from a mild annoyance to illegality when one must work in the offensive environment as a condition of their employment OR the offensive behavior/conduct is so strong as to create a hostile/intimidating work environment. Determining whether other reasonable individuals could tolerate similar conditions is subjective, which is why it’s essential to work with a California employment attorney with extensive experience. In general, these acts must be severe and pervasive to be considered “harassment.”

Employers are responsible to address workplace harassment when it is reported, but state and federal standards differ.

What is Workplace Retaliation in California?

California law prohibits workplace retaliation (adverse employment action) against employees who:

  • File complaints of or participate in investigations of job-related harassment or employment discrimination.
  • Request reasonable accommodations for religious beliefs or disability;
  • Report violations of law;
  • File or assist in a qui tam lawsuit per the state’s False Claims Act.

Provisions against workplace retaliation are found in the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, California whistleblower laws and other laws.

Acts of workplace retaliation might include:

  • Increased workload;
  • Sudden negative performance reviews;
  • Assignment to less desirable shifts;
  • Exclusions from certain important meetings or projects;
  • Unfair denial of promotion or raise;
  • Disciplinary action based on inadequate grounds.

What Should I Do if I Face California Discrimination, Harassment or Retaliation? 

Your first priority is always your physical safety. If you have been attacked or feel threatened, this should be immediately reported to law enforcement.

Beyond that, some general actions typically advisable include:

Keep a careful chronology of what has happened so far. Make sure to include all details you can think of regarding each offending event.

Start recording everything that happens from this point forward. Note how these incidents are affecting you.

Report these incidents to your supervisor, human resources department or other higher up. Do this only if you feel safe. If not, it’s past time to consult with an employment attorney for specific advice on how to move forward. If you do report these incidents, make sure to have a written account.

Give your employer a chance to fix the problem. Again, this is only if you feel safe doing so. Sometimes employers will come through, address the problem and you can continue working in peace. If they do not fix it and/or things get worse, you may have grounds for a workplace discrimination/harassment/retaliation claim.

If at any point in this you aren’t sure what to do next, our Los Angeles employment attorneys can help. We offer free initial consultations and take cases on a contingency fee basis.

Contact the employment attorneys at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Orange County, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 949-375-4734.

Additional Resources:

California Fair Housing and Employment Act

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