The workplace has evolved greatly since the 1950s. Gone are the days when it was perfectly acceptable for men to have a lunchtime martini and hire a secretary based on looks alone. While not every company has reached the era of full inclusion on all levels, many companies are taking great strides in eliminating discrimination and curbing certain rampant stereotypes. California has also played a large role in each company coming into compliance with employment regulations.
Employees throughout the state of California have rights under California law which prohibit discriminatory or harassing behavior. The California Fair Employment Practices Act was signed by the governor in 1959 and was aimed at protecting employees by prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of race, religion, color, national origin, and ancestry. The Act has evolved over the decades to take into consideration new forms of discriminatory, but still serves the same purpose: to protect employees from discrimination and harassment in the workplace.
Workplace harassment include discrimination based on the following:
- Race and color
- National origin/ancestry
- Marital status
Workplace harassment can take many forms and can be as minor as an inappropriate joke or as hostile as physical interaction.
The following include the types of verbal and physical harassment which can occur:
- Derogatory statements
- Offensive or vulgar statements
- Display of offensive artwork or other material
- Obscene jokes
- Inappropriate physical contact
The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing implements the procedures for upholding the law and prohibiting employment discrimination. An employee who has been the victim of workplace harassment based on discrimination can file a complaint with the Department. The Department will carefully review the complaint and determine whether the harassment rises to the level of unlawful behavior. If the Department determines that the complaint can move forward, the Department will serve the harasser (the Respondent) with the complaint.
The Respondent will then be required to answer the complaint, and from that point will be encouraged to negotiate a settlement. If no settlement can be reached throughout the process, the Department may take the complaint to district court.
If the Department did not accept your complaint alleging workplace harassment, you are always entitled to file a claim in court at any time. Additionally, workplace harassment which reaches the level of physical contact could also lead to criminal charges, as the California Penal Code classifies assault as a misdemeanor offense. Victims of workplace harassment therefore have several open avenues after the harassment takes place.
It is important to recognize that even small comments can rise to the level of workplace harassment and might subject the employee to civil fines and penalties under the California Fair Employment and Housing Council. It has taken decades for workplaces to become more welcoming of employees of all backgrounds, and the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing has been a major source of reform to protect employees from harassment. Victims of harassment need to always come forward with evidence of discriminatory actions by the employees or employers to ensure this type of behavior does not continue in the future.