California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) is a crucial piece of legislation that aims to protect employees and tenants from discrimination, harassment, and unfair treatment in the workplace and housing sectors. Enacted in 1959, FEHA has evolved over the years to ensure equal opportunities and fair treatment for all individuals residing or working in California. This article provides an overview of FEHA and its key requirements, empowering individuals to understand their rights and employers to comply with the law.
Overview of FEHA
FEHA is a comprehensive set of laws that prohibit discrimination and harassment based on various protected characteristics, including but not limited to race, color, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, medical condition, marital status, and age. It applies to both public and private employers with five or more employees, as well as housing providers, landlords, and real estate agents.
Prohibited Actions under FEHA
FEHA strictly prohibits several discriminatory actions that are unlawful in California:
Employment Discrimination: Employers cannot discriminate against employees or job applicants in any aspect of employment, including recruitment, hiring, promotions, compensation, benefits, or termination, based on the protected characteristics mentioned earlier.
Harassment: FEHA prohibits any form of harassment based on protected characteristics. Harassment includes offensive jokes, slurs, derogatory remarks, unwelcome physical contact, or creating a hostile work environment. Employers must take prompt and appropriate action to address harassment complaints.
Retaliation: FEHA protects individuals who oppose discrimination or harassment, file complaints, or participate in investigations from retaliation. Employers cannot take adverse actions, such as termination or demotion, against employees for engaging in protected activities.
Housing Discrimination: FEHA also prohibits discrimination in housing-related activities, such as renting, selling, or leasing based on protected characteristics. Landlords, property managers, and real estate agents must adhere to fair housing practices and treat all applicants equally.
Reasonable Accommodations and Disability Discrimination
FEHA places a particular emphasis on protecting individuals with disabilities. Employers and housing providers have a duty to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals with disabilities, allowing them to perform essential job functions or enjoy equal housing opportunities. Examples of reasonable accommodations include modified work schedules, assistive devices, accessible facilities, and policy modifications, unless it causes undue hardship.
Complaint Process and Enforcement
Individuals who believe they have experienced discrimination or harassment under FEHA can file a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) within one year from the date of the alleged incident. DFEH will investigate the complaint and attempt to resolve it through mediation or negotiation. If the matter remains unresolved, the complainant may pursue a lawsuit.
Additionally, employees have the right to pursue legal action independently without involving DFEH by filing a civil lawsuit against the employer or housing provider. Remedies for successful FEHA claims may include compensation for damages, reinstatement, policy changes, and attorney’s fees.
Importance of Compliance
Employers and housing providers must take proactive steps to ensure compliance with FEHA to create a safe and inclusive environment for all. Complying with FEHA not only prevents legal repercussions but also fosters a positive work culture, attracts diverse talent, and enhances reputation.
It is crucial for employers to implement comprehensive anti-discrimination and harassment policies, provide regular training to employees, promptly investigate complaints, and take appropriate corrective actions when necessary. Similarly, housing providers must ensure equal access to housing, treat applicants fairly, and promptly address any discriminatory practices.
Recent Updates and Expansion of FEHA
Over the years, FEHA has undergone updates and expansions to strengthen its protections and address emerging issues. It is important to stay informed about recent changes to ensure compliance. Here are some notable updates:
Expanded Definition of “Sex” and “Gender”: FEHA now includes a broader definition of “sex” and “gender,” recognizing that discrimination can occur based on gender identity, gender expression, and transgender status. This expansion provides greater protection for transgender individuals and ensures they are treated with dignity and respect.
Ban on Hairstyle Discrimination: In 2020, FEHA was amended to include a ban on hairstyle discrimination. This provision, known as the CROWN Act (Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair), prohibits employers and schools from enforcing policies that discriminate against natural hairstyles, primarily targeting people of African descent.
Expanded Protection for Victims of Domestic Violence, Stalking, or Sexual Assault: FEHA was amended to enhance protections for victims of domestic violence, stalking, or sexual assault. Employers must now provide reasonable accommodations to employees who are victims of such crimes, including time off for medical treatment, counseling, or safety planning.
Protections for Employees with Family Caregiving Responsibilities: FEHA now prohibits discrimination against employees with caregiving responsibilities for children, parents, spouses, or domestic partners. Employers must accommodate these responsibilities to ensure equal opportunities for employees in the workplace.
Penalties for Violating FEHA
Violating FEHA can lead to serious consequences for employers and housing providers. The penalties for non-compliance may include:
Monetary Damages: Employers or housing providers found guilty of violating FEHA may be required to pay compensatory damages to the affected individuals. These damages could include lost wages, emotional distress, and other related expenses.
Civil Penalties: The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing has the authority to impose civil penalties on employers and housing providers who engage in discriminatory practices. These penalties can be substantial and vary depending on the severity and frequency of the violations.
Reputational Damage: Violating FEHA can have long-lasting negative effects on an organization’s reputation. Public exposure of discriminatory practices can lead to loss of customers, damage to brand image, and potential boycotts.
Injunctions and Policy Changes: Courts may issue injunctions requiring employers or housing providers to change discriminatory policies, implement training programs, or take other corrective measures to prevent future violations.
Understanding FEHA is essential for both individuals and organizations operating in California. If you believe you have experienced discrimination or harassment, consult with an experienced employment attorney to explore your legal options. For employers and housing providers, The Myers Law Group, APC, is here to assist you in navigating FEHA compliance and implementing effective policies to foster a respectful and inclusive environment.
Contact us today to learn more about FEHA, your rights, and how we can help ensure compliance with California’s fair employment and housing laws.
FEHA plays a vital role in ensuring equal opportunities and fair treatment for individuals in California. By understanding its requirements, individuals can assert their rights, while employers and housing providers can create a workplace and housing environment that fosters diversity, inclusion, and mutual respect.