Workplace harassment is a pervasive and critical issue that affects the well-being and productivity of employees. To tackle this issue, California has some of the most stringent laws in place to protect employees from harassment at work. Understanding these laws is crucial for employees and employers alike. This article provides an overview of California’s laws on workplace harassment and an experienced employment lawyer can provide individual advice on your specific case.
The Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA)
The Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) is the primary law that governs workplace harassment in California. Under the FEHA, harassment based on a protected characteristic is illegal. Protected characteristics include race, religious creed, color, national origin, ancestry, physical disability, mental disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, age, sexual orientation, or military and veteran status.
Workplace harassment can take many forms, including but not limited to: offensive remarks, slurs, derogatory comments, sexual advances, physical assault, or displaying offensive objects or pictures.
Who is Protected?
Under the FEHA, every employee in California is protected against workplace harassment, regardless of the size of the company. This protection extends to independent contractors, unpaid interns, and volunteers. Moreover, California law also protects individuals from harassment by a variety of persons in the workplace, not just their direct supervisor. This includes co-workers, supervisors, managers, or third parties such as customers or vendors.
Employer’s Duty to Prevent Harassment
Under the FEHA, employers have a proactive duty to prevent harassment from occurring in the workplace. This involves creating policies against harassment, providing a mechanism for employees to report harassment, effectively investigating reports of harassment, and taking immediate and appropriate corrective action when harassment is found to have occurred.
California law also requires employers with five or more employees to provide at least two hours of sexual harassment prevention training to all supervisory employees and one hour of such training to nonsupervisory employees, at least once every two years.
Filing a Harassment Claim
If an employee believes they have been harassed, they can file a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), the state agency charged with enforcing the FEHA. The complaint should be filed within one year from the last act of harassment.
Once a complaint is filed, the DFEH will conduct an investigation. If the DFEH determines that harassment has occurred, it can file a lawsuit in court on behalf of the complaining party. Alternatively, the DFEH can issue a “right to sue” notice, allowing the individual to file a lawsuit in court on their own.
California’s law on workplace harassment is comprehensive, aiming to provide a safe and respectful work environment for all employees. Employers are held to high standards to prevent and address harassment, and employees are empowered with significant rights and protections. However, the legal landscape surrounding workplace harassment can be complex, and those involved are advised to seek legal counsel from an employment attorney to understand and effectively navigate these laws.