Fair Employment and Housing Act
California’s anti-discrimination and harassment laws are known to cover broader aspects of employment than not just the other states, but also the prevailing federal counterparts. One of the most recognized state statutes that are known to prohibit discrimination and harassment in the workplace is the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). It covers “employers, labor organizations, employment agencies, apprenticeship programs and any person or entity who aids, abets, incites, compels, or coerces the doing of a discriminatory act.”
Covered employers under this Act are those that employ 5 or more individuals. This is in comparison with the other federal laws that prohibit discrimination and harassment in the workplace, wherein the coverage includes employers that have 15 or more employees (20 or more employees when age discrimination is concerned). Also, as already mentioned, the FEHA provides broader coverage and interpretations when it comes to which characteristics are protected.
For instance, national origin is both a protected characteristic under the FEHA and the federal Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. However, the national origin characteristic is interpreted in the state statute to include language and its restrictions within the workplace. Here, covered employers cannot limit or prohibit individuals in the workplace to speak using their native tongue, unless doing so is a business necessity. The same also goes with the aspect of one’s disability, wherein it is defined under the FEHA as any impairment that makes it difficult for a person to perform a major life activity, rather than the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that defines it as any physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Indeed, the FEHA provides California employees better protections against any other forms of employment discrimination and harassment, although the federal counterparts shouldn’t be discounted.
Meanwhile, the state statute, which is enforced by the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), gives aggrieved individuals who suffered harassing and/or discriminatory conduct in the workplace on account of race, color, sex (including pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical condition/s), sexual orientation, gender expression and identity, and other protected characteristics the chance to file their claims or complaints. As it is, they can file their claims with the DFEH online, over the phone, or through mail.
A FEHA claim in California, however, must be filed within a certain period of time as provided by the law’s statute of limitations. Here, the claim must be filed within a year of the alleged unlawful conduct. The period is enough for the state agency to undergo investigations, obtain important documents, and find and interview witnesses. While hiring a legal counsel is not necessarily required when filing claims, it would still be best to do so, especially if the DFEH decides not to continue with the investigation and gives employees notices of their “right to sue.”
Taking immediate legal action on the discriminatory and/or harassing behavior in the workplace puts employees in the position wherein they could be able to exact justice for the ordeal they experienced in the workplace. Indeed, filing a claim under the FEHA would be the best step for them to obtain justice that they deserve.