• Sasha Struthers

What is employment harassment, discrimination and retaliation in California?

California's anti-harassment, discrimination and retaliation employment laws are some of the strongest in the country. The idea behind the laws is to balance the bargaining powers between employer and employee in a state with a presumed "At-Will" employment policy, which you can read more on "At-Will" employment here. Employers can terminate an employee at any time, unless it is for an illegal purpose, discussed in that blog and below.

California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing ("DFEH") oversees the enforcement of California's Fair Employment and Housing Act ("FEHA"). FEHA makes it illegal for an employer to harass, discriminate against and retaliate against an employee because the employee is part of a protected class and/or engaged in a protected activity.

Protected Class- California has 12 protected class categories:

  • Race, color

  • Ancestry, national origin

  • Religion, creed

  • Age (40 and over)

  • Mental and/or physical disability

  • Sex, gender (including pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding or related medical conditions)

  • Sexual orientation

  • Gender identity and expression

  • Medical condition

  • Genetic information

  • Marital Status

  • Military or veteran status

Protected Activity- Protected activities include, but are not limited to:

  • Filing a complaint with a government employment agency.

  • Complaining about workplace practices that are in violation of employment laws.

  • Threatening to complain about violations of employment laws.

  • Providing information in another employee's employment investigation matter.

  • Refusing to obey an employer's order to do something employee believes to be illegal or discriminatory.

  • Intervening and/or speaking up against harassing and discriminatory behavior.

  • Requesting accommodation for disability or religious reasons.

Harassment- California breaks up harassment into two kinds- Sexual Harassment and Non-Sexual Harassment.

Quid Pro Quo ("This for That") is sexual harassment specific. It is when an employer, manager or supervisor requires or solicits an employee to engage in a sexual act in exchange for an employment benefit, such as raise, promotion, favorable employee review, job security, etc.

Hostile Work Environment is a form of harassment that does not need to be sexual in nature, that creates am abuse work environment. The harassing conduct must be server or pervasive. You will want to talk to an attorney to determine if another's harassing conduct towards you would amount to severe or pervasive. Unlike Quid Pro Quo, this type of harassment can be based on conduct of third-parties such as vendors, who are not employees of the business.

Discrimination- This occurs when an employee receives less favorable treatment from an employer, manager or supervisor based on the employee be part of a protected class. This includes having policies in place that disproportionately impacts an employee or group of employees in a protected class.

Retaliation- This occurs when an employer takes an adverse employment action against an employee, such as demoting, disciplining or firing an employee, because the employee engaged in a protected activity.

Reporting Harassment, Discrimination or Retaliation

Employees can report receiving the above mentioned behavior to the employer, HR or an employment agency. If an employee feels uncomfortable with reporting to the above they can go to an attorney to discuss options to address the negative behavior and consequences on the employee's job and well being. Employees who want to file a claim or lawsuit against an employer are advised to talk to an attorney before doing so to be informed of their rights.

If you have any employment law questions or curiosities piqued by this post feel free to reach out to me. You may contact me by phone at (818) 306-0686 or by email at sasha@struthers.legal

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The information in this post is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this post should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.

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