While the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that protects people with disabilities from discrimination in various sectors, including employment, California has its own set of regulations under California employment laws.
One primary state-specific law is the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), which offers broader protection than the ADA. FEHA protects individuals from discrimination based on a physical or mental disability, among other categories.
What Are the Employment Discrimination Laws in California?
California employment discrimination laws are some of the most comprehensive in the nation. Beyond the Fair Employment and Housing Act, which is among the most comprehensive in the country, California has several other noteworthy statutes:
- California Family Rights Act (CFRA): Similar to the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the CFRA provides eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year for certain family and medical reasons.
- California’s Equal Pay Act: This act mandates employers to pay employees of the opposite sex equally for doing substantially similar work unless the employer can justify the pay difference through specific factors like seniority or merit.
- California Pregnancy Disability Leave (PDL): This ensures that women who are disabled due to pregnancy, childbirth, or related conditions are entitled to up to four months of job-protected leave.
- California Labor Code Section 230: This code provides protection for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking, allowing them to take time off work without fear of retaliation.
- California’s Workers’ Compensation: This ensures workers receive proper compensation if they get injured on the job, regardless of fault. It provides for medical expenses, rehabilitation, and, in some cases, wage replacement.
- California Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act: This grants most employees in California the right to accrue at least one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, up to a minimum of three days per year.
- AB 1008 – “Ban the Box” legislation: This prohibits employers with five or more employees from asking about an applicant’s criminal history until after a conditional job offer is made.
- California’s Whistleblower Protection Act: This ensures protection for public employees who report waste, fraud, abuse of authority, violation of law, or threat to public health.
- Labor Code Section 432.3: This code bans employers from asking about a job applicant’s past salary history.
- Senate Bill 396: Requires employers to provide training on gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation harassment as a component of the sexual harassment training already mandated in the state.
- Assembly Bill 1825: This bill mandates that employers with 50 or more employees provide supervisors with two hours of sexual harassment prevention training every two years.
Each statute addresses different aspects of the employment relationship, ensuring broad coverage and protection against discrimination and unfair employment practices.
How Do I File an Employment Discrimination Claim?
If you believe you’ve been a victim of employment discrimination in California, you can file a claim with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). It’s essential to act quickly, as there are time limits for filing a complaint.
Step 1: Preliminary Assessment
Before you formally file a complaint, it’s essential to ensure that:
- The incident(s) occurred within the last 12 months. This is crucial because there’s a strict statute of limitations.
- Your case falls under the jurisdiction of DFEH (i.e., your employer is covered by California’s anti-discrimination laws, and the type of discrimination you experienced is protected under those laws).
Step 2: Prepare and File a Complaint
You can file a complaint online through the DFEH’s Cal Civil Rights System or by mailing a hard copy.
When preparing your complaint:
- Document Everything: Provide as much detail as possible about the discriminatory act(s). This includes dates, times, locations, people involved, witnesses, and the nature of each incident.
- Attach Evidence: Attach any relevant documents, such as emails, text messages, memos, or any other evidence that supports your claim.
Step 3: DFEH Review
Once your complaint is filed, DFEH reviews it. If the department determines that the case falls under its jurisdiction, it will officially “accept” the complaint, and the process will proceed.
Step 4: Investigation
- Mediation: DFEH may offer mediation, a voluntary process where a neutral third party helps the two sides come to an agreement.
- Formal Investigation: If mediation isn’t successful or isn’t chosen, DFEH will conduct a more formal investigation. This might involve interviewing witnesses, reviewing documents, and visiting the employment site.
Step 5: Determination
After completing the investigation, DFEH makes a determination:
- No Violation: If no violation of the law is found, DFEH will close the case, but you still retain the right to sue if you disagree with the decision.
- Violation Found: If DFEH determines there’s enough evidence of discrimination, it will attempt to reach a settlement with the employer on your behalf.
Step 6: Right-to-Sue Letter
If no settlement is reached, DFEH may either:
- File a lawsuit on your behalf against the employer in public interest cases;
- Issue a right-to-sue letter, which allows you to file a lawsuit in a court of law. Even if DFEH doesn’t find a violation, you can request this letter if you wish to pursue the matter further in court.
This process can be complex, with many legal nuances. While it’s not mandatory, having legal representation can be advantageous.
A civil rights attorney or one who handles cases in employment law will be knowledgeable about the nuances of both the ADA and California employment laws. They can guide you through the process, help build a solid case, and advocate on your behalf.
What Types of Accommodations Do California Disability Discrimination Laws Cover?
California disability discrimination laws, especially under FEHA, require employers to provide “reasonable accommodations” for employees with disabilities.
These accommodations can include, but aren’t limited to:
- Modified work schedules;
- Altering existing facilities to make them accessible;
- Acquiring or modifying equipment or devices;
- Adjusting or modifying examinations, training materials, or policies.
The primary goal is to enable an employee with a disability to perform essential job functions without causing undue hardship to the employer.
What Are Some Other California Employment Disability Discrimination Issues?
Beyond straightforward employment discrimination, issues can arise regarding:
- Harassment based on disability;
- Retaliation against employees who assert their rights under disability laws;
- Employer failure to engage in a timely, good-faith interactive process to determine effective, reasonable accommodations;
- Misunderstanding or mishandling of leave rights under laws such as the California Family Rights Act or the federal
- Family and Medical Leave Act when they intersect with disability rights.
Do I Need to Hire a California Attorney for a Disability Discrimination Case at My Work?
Absolutely. Hiring a California attorney for your disability discrimination case is one of the best things you could possibly do for yourself. Employment discrimination cases, especially in a state with laws as comprehensive as California’s, can be complicated.
If you believe you’ve experienced workplace discrimination due to your disability, don’t wait any longer to get the help you need. Submitting your case through LegalMatch is free, and you’ll be matched with an experienced attorney in your area. Contact a California discrimination attorney through LegalMatch today to make sure your rights are protected and upheld.