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How FEHA helps protect California workers from discrimination

On Behalf of | Jan 25, 2021 | Employment Law

There are numerous federal laws that help protect workers from employers that would put them in unsafe work environments, subject them to abuse or discriminate against them. Unfortunately, federal laws on worker protection leave plenty of gaps and often require a large number of employees at the company in question.

Many employees tolerate inappropriate work conditions and unfair treatment because they think they can’t speak up without losing their job and hurting their career prospects. Thankfully, workers in California have even stronger, state-level protections under FEHA against an employer who might mistreat or discriminate against them.

What is FEHA?

The Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) is a law enacted in 1959 to expand the protections available to workers in the state of California. It applies to any workplace with five or more employees, which means that it protects more people than many similar federal laws might. The law also protects people from discrimination in housing.

FEHA establishes multiple protected categories for workers. These categories include:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Ancestry
  • National origin
  • Religion
  • Physical or mental disabilities
  • Pregnancy
  • Marital status
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation
  • Age for those who are at least 40

Workers who experience discrimination on the job can bring a claim against their employer under FEHA. They first file a claim with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, a step which initiates investigations and other important processes. A formal complaint also protects workers against retaliation.

Do you have any risk if you bring a claim under FEHA?

Your employer cannot punish you for standing up for your own rights, reporting misconduct or asking them to enforce state law and internal policies. Any attempt to punish you, whether it involves cutting your wages or reducing your hours, would likely constitute retaliation. The same protections also exist for anyone who might testify and help corroborate your claims.

There are federal laws against retaliatory acts by employers after employees speak up for themselves. Additionally, there are court cases in California that serve as precedent virtually eliminating financial risk because employers cannot ask employees to cover their costs if a claim under FEHA is unsuccessful. While it can feel frightening to stand up for yourself, you risk more by accepting the mistreatment without taking action.