California labor law covers many different legal issues involving employment, benefits, wages, workplace discrimination, pensions, labor disputes, safety issues and many more. Under California state law, all workers have legal rights and protections and workers who feel that their employer may have violated their workplace rights or may have discriminated against them have many remedies available to them.

What are Employers’ Obligations under the Law?

Under state and federal law, employers must prevent harassment, discrimination and retaliation and also comply with state and federal wage and hour laws. Employers are not permitted to harass or allow their employees to harass someone on the basis of sex or any other protected categories under state and federal law. Employers, including managers and supervisors, are also prohibited from retaliating against employees who complain and report incidents of harassment and discrimination. Employers are obligated to prevent, investigate, and rectify harassment, discrimination or any other wrongful practices in their workplace.

California and federal law prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of the protected categories of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age, and disability. However, California law also prohibits discrimination based on:

  • Sexual orientation;
  • Gender identity;
  • Gender expression;
  • Marital status; and/or
  • Medical/genetic condition

So, unfair treatment becomes unlawful when it is based on one of the above-mentioned protected categories. In order to establish a case of discrimination under California law, an employee must prove the following:

  1. They belong to one of the protected categories.
  2. They are qualified for the position.
  3. They are subject to an adverse employment action.
  4. Individuals in similar situations who were not members of the protected class were treated more favorably.

There are multiple labor and employment agencies at the state and federal level which handle the issue of unfair employment practices. Among the major ones are the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) of the California Department of Industrial Relations (DIR).

Workers in California who feel that they have experienced unfair employment practices may have different complaints which in turn involve different agencies. For example, age discrimination is handled by the EEOC while violations of minimum wage and overtime laws are generally handled by the DLSE or the DIR. Different claims may have different filing requirements so it is important to look at the rules and procedures which deal with filing a particular claim.

How to File a Discrimination Claim Against an Employer?

Under California and federal law, an employee who believes that he or she experienced discrimination first must file with the appropriate state or federal administrative agency before filing a lawsuit in court. Under California law, employees have one year from the discriminatory act to file with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).

Another option is to file a claim with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within 300 days of the discriminatory act if the charge is also covered by a state or local anti-discrimination law.

To bring a claim for employment discrimination, an employee must show that the employer took an adverse employment action against the employee, and that discrimination motivated that action. Under California and federal law, adverse employment actions include anything from:

  • termination or firing;
  • demotion;
  • transfer;
  • unfavorable job assignment;
  • reduction in pay;
  • failure to interview or hire; and
  • denying promotion or advancement among other employment decisions.

Claims for discrimination and retaliation that are filed with the Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) follow a simplified process. Employees are required to print and mail a complaint form available at the DIR. On the form, the employee will be asked to explain the reasoning for the complaint, their employer’s information, contact information for any potential witnesses and what outcome the employee desires to have.

How to Find the Right Lawyer

Due to the complexities of the multiple state and federal agencies, differing filing requirements and  the complaint and appeals processes, it is highly recommended that employees in California who have complaints regarding unfair employment practices seek the advice of an experienced California employment lawyer before proceeding.