What does California’s Fair Employment and Housing act mean for workers?

California law guarantees employees certain rights

California has some of the most robust employee-protection laws in the United States. The California Fair Employment and Housing Act establish rules for how employers must treat their employees.

Unfortunately, employers do not always follow these rules the way they are supposed to. As such, it can be very helpful for employees to be informed of their rights, so that they are equipped to speak up if something illegal is happening.

Protection against discrimination and harassment

Discrimination means taking an adverse action - such as firing, demoting or refusing to hire - based on a protected characteristic. Harassment occurs when an employer knowingly allows a hostile or offensive work environment to persist. In the context of sexual harassment, unlawful harassment may also exist if an employer conditions employment on the performance of sexual favors. California law prohibits discrimination and harassment based on the following characteristics:

  • Age (over 40)
  • Ancestry and national origin
  • Race and color
  • Physical or mental disability (including HIV/AIDS status)
  • Medical conditions and genetic information
  • Gender, gender identity, and gender expression
  • Religion
  • Marital status
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation

In addition, employers are not allowed to restrict employees from speaking any language in the workplace, unless doing so is a business necessity.

The requirement for reasonable accommodation

Employers must make an effort to reasonably accommodate an employee's disability in a way that allows the employee to perform his or her essential job duties. Additionally, employers must provide reasonable accommodation to an employee for pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, if those accommodations are recommended by the employee's health care provider.

Similarly, employers must make reasonable accommodations for employees' religious practices. This includes things like religious dress and jewelry, hairstyles and facial hair.

The ability to take certain medical leave

Employees who are disabled as a result of pregnancy, childbirth or a related condition are entitled to up to four months of leave.

Additionally, employers with 50 or more employees must allow their employees to take up to 12 week of family and medical leave. This includes leave after the birth or adoption of a child, leave to care for the employee's own serious health condition, or leave to care for the health condition of a spouse, child or parent.

The right to be free from retaliation

Employers must not retaliate against employees who oppose or report unlawful workplace discrimination. This protection also extends to individuals who help others to report or oppose such discrimination.

You can take action

California law provides remedies for employees who have been subjected to discrimination, harassment, wrongful termination and other violations of the law. Possible remedies include reinstatement, back pay, attorney's fees and compensation for emotional distress.

If you have been the victim of unlawful behavior in the workplace, speak with a California employment law attorney who can help you understand your rights and options.

Keywords: employment, medical leave, discrimination, pregnancy