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What rights do employees have against discrimination?

On Behalf of | Apr 13, 2020 | Discrimination

Discrimination has no place in a California workplace. State law prohibits many forms of employment discrimination and helps protect workers. Importantly, there are legal remedies for a worker who faces this conduct.

Laws against discrimination

California outlaws discrimination in all types of business activities. These include advertisements, compensation and working conditions and participation in a training or apprenticeship program or union. Discrimination cannot play a role in decisions involving the hiring, transfer, promotion or firing of employees or in applications, screening and interviews of job applicants.

Many forms of illegal discrimination are illegal. These include race and color, ancestry and national origin, religion and creed, age for a person over 40, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, gender identification and expression, health condition, genetics, marital status and military and veteran status. Discrimination over gender issues involving pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding and related issues is also prohibited.

The state’s Fair Employment and Housing Act makes it illegal for employers of at least five employees to discriminate against job applicants and employees because they are in a protected category. They cannot retaliate against them because they pursued their legal rights. The FEHA also outlaws harassment if an employee, an applicant, an unpaid intern, a volunteer or a contractor is in a protected category in all workplaces regardless of workforce size if that harassment is based upon the employee being in that category.

There are other laws that protect workers. Under the California Family Rights Act, employers with at least 50 employees must allow job-protected leave for childbirth, placement of a child in the employee’s family for adoption or foster care and for medical care of a serious health condition of the employee and their child, parent or spouse.

Employers with at least 20 employees must give job-protected leave to eligible workers for childbirth or placement of a child for adoption or foster care under the New Parent Leave Act. Also, employers with at least five workers should give up to four months of disability leave to a work who has a disability from pregnancy, childbirth or related health condition.


There are several remedies for employment discrimination under California law. These include back pay, future lost earnings, hiring or reinstatement, promotion, out-of-pocket costs, legal fees and costs, changes in employer policies, training, reasonable accommodations, damages for emotional distress, civil penalties and punitive damages.

Pursuing charges

An employee who suffered workplace discrimination may file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing within three years of the discriminatory act. The DFEH will investigate the complaint, provide free dispute resolution, hold mediation if it finds a probable violation and file a lawsuit.

Employees may also file their own legal action instead of using the DFEH process. The DFEH may also submit a right to sue letter if it decides not to investigate a case.

Before beginning this step, employees should obtain contact information concerning their employer, any additional respondents to the complaint and contact information for the agent for service who should receive legal documents for the employer.

A private attorney can give personal attention to an employee and them file these complaints. Additionally, a lawyer can help review the case, provide options, gather information and protect an employee’s rights in this process.

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