Discrimination & Harassment

Discrimination and harassment in the workplace based on certain characteristics is prohibited by both federal and state law. However, the state law, which is the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) offers more protection than the federal law.

FEHA prohibits discrimination and harassment based on an individual’s race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, ancestry, disability, medical condition, age, and military/veteran status. This means employers cannot base decisions to hire, fire, promote, reassign, give pay raises to, or lay off employees based on one of these protected classes.

The law protects people of all different racial backgrounds and skin colors. It is illegal for an employer to discriminate or harass someone based on his or her actual or perceived race or skin color. For example, an employer is violating this law if he harasses someone he believes is African-American, even if the employee is a different race. Employers also are prohibited from discriminating or harassing someone for associating with people of different races.

You have the right to practice any religion that you choose without fearing how your beliefs will affect your employment. It is not just your choice in beliefs that is protected. Under this law, employers cannot discriminate or harass you based on your beliefs, observances, or practices, which includes the way that your religion mandates that you dress or groom yourself.

You also have the right to ask for religious accommodations from your employer, which must be made unless they are considered unreasonable requests. For example, a Muslim employee may ask his employer if he can take small breaks throughout the day in order to pray. As long as granting this request does not create an undue hardship on the business, this accommodation must be made.

The FEHA prohibits the discrimination or harassment of someone based on that person’s sex, gender identity, or gender expression. This portion of the FEHA also provides prohibits discrimination and harassment related to pregnancy, pregnancy-related medical conditions, childbirth, and breastfeeding.

A person’s gender expression is his or her gender-related appearance or behavior, which may or may not be associated with the person’s actual gender. On the other hand, a person’s gender identity is his or her own understanding of his gender. People can consider themselves male, female, neither, both, or transgender.

Employers should steer clear of all questions related to someone’s gender, gender identity, gender expression, and pregnancy during the interview process. There is often a stereotype that women are physically weaker than men, but employers cannot base employment decisions off of this, or any other, gender stereotype.

Sexual harassment is also considered a form of sex discrimination. This type of harassment can either be considered quid pro quo or hostile work environment. The first occurs when someone offers an employee a benefit in exchange for a sexual favor. For instance, a manager may offer a female employee a pay raise if she agrees to engage in a sexual activity with him. The second occurs when the harassment is so frequent or offensive that the workplace becomes a hostile work environment, meaning it affects employees’ ability to do their jobs.

Sexual Orientation
Discriminating against someone based on his or her sexual orientation is a type of sex discrimination that is prohibited by law. You cannot be treated differently than your co-workers based on your personal sexual orientation or the sexual orientation of someone that you are closely associated with. It is also illegal for employers to discriminate against someone based on their perceived sexual orientation. This means a woman could take legal action against her employer if she is treated differently because the employer thinks that she is a lesbian, even if she is actually a heterosexual.

Marital Status
Your marital status should not affect your employment, which is why discrimination based on whether someone is married, single, divorced, widowed, or separated is prohibited by law. The FEHA states that employers are prohibited from discriminating against an individual based on:

  • The fact that the individual is unmarried.
  • The individual’s current single or married status.
  • The employment (or unemployment) of the individual’s spouse.

This portion of the law covers many different types of discriminatory behavior. For example, it is illegal for an employer to require that married females take their husbands’ names. If an applicant’s spouse already works for the employer, this information cannot be used to make employment decisions, with a few exceptions. For example, an employer may decide to hire you, but knowing that your spouse works with the company, the employer may put you in a different department so your spouse is not your supervisor.

National Origin/Ancestry
Employers are also prohibited from discriminating against or harassing someone because of their national origin. This means employers cannot treat someone unfairly because of his actual or perceived country of origin, ethnicity, and accent. This section of the FEHA also covers language restrictions and requirements in the workplace. Employers are allowed to require that employees only speak English at certain times as long as it is necessary that they do so. For example, employees who are working in hazardous conditions may be told to only speak in English so they can clearly communicate with co-workers for safety purposes.

If you have a mental or physical disability, the FEHA protects you against discrimination and harassment at work. There are many different types of disability discrimination, many of which individuals may encounter during job interviews. For instance, employers cannot ask you about your medical history or whether or not you have any physical or mental disabilities. Employers are also required to accommodate your disability during the interview process. For instance, individuals who are in wheelchairs should be allowed to interview in a room that is wheelchair accessible.

Disabled employees can also request reasonable accommodations that must be granted unless the accommodation is too difficult or expensive for the employer to make. In addition, employers cannot make any job-related decisions based on whether or not someone has a disability. This means firing an employee or reassigning him to a less desirable position is another form of disability discrimination.

Medical Condition
Some medical conditions may not qualify as a disability, but that does not mean that employers are free to discriminate against or harass someone who has them. For example, an employer cannot ask applicants about whether they have cancer or are genetically predisposed to certain types of cancer, and then use this information to decide who to hire.

Age (40+)
Age discrimination against employees who are 40 years of age or older is prohibited. This law was established to fight stereotypes and ensure that older employees are given the same employment opportunities as younger workers. Age discrimination can take on many different forms, and can begin before an employee is even hired for the job. For example, an employer cannot advertise a job opening and states that only individuals who are under the age of 40 should apply. Employers also cannot require older job applicants to undergo medical examinations if it is not required of all applicants.

Retirement is another issue that often comes up in age discrimination cases. Private employers cannot force employees to retire because they have reached a certain age. Of course, there are some exceptions in which this would not be considered age discrimination. If you are unsure of whether you have been unfairly treated because of your age, talk to an attorney at once.

Military or Veteran Status
Members or veterans of the United States Armed Forces, United States Armed Forces Reserve, United States National Guard, and the California National Guard are protected from discrimination and harassment in the workplace. Military members and veterans are given the same protections as other classes listed above. However, there is one difference. Employers are allowed to ask job applicants about their military or veteran status and award veterans preference as allowed by the state law.

Let Our Attorneys Protect Your Rights
If you have been harassed or discriminated against, speak to an experienced employment law attorney right away. At Javanmardi Law P.C., we take pride in seeking justice on behalf of employees whose rights have been violated in the workplace. To discuss your case, call 818-714-1634 or email Peter@JavanMardiLaw.com today.