Guide to the Laws about Discrimination and Harassment at Work in California

This is part of our Guide to the Laws for Employees in California.


Is it illegal for my employer to discriminate against me? 

In California, employers (with at least 5 employees) are prohibited from engaging in any actions related to employment where the actions are on the basis of: race, religious creed, color, national origin, ancestry, physical or mental disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, age, and sexual orientation, as well as pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.1Cal Govt Code Sec. 12926(k), (n), 12940(a) 

Prohibited discrimination even includes actions based on a perception that you may have any of the above characteristics or that you are associated with a person who has, or is perceived to have, any of those characteristics. 2Cal Govt Code §12926(n)

Employers are also prohibited from taking into consideration in hiring: any arrests that did not result in a conviction; or convictions that were dismissed or “sealed” by a court; or any involvement with a juvenile court; with some exceptions. But health facilities employers may use information about arrests for certain crimes.3432.7 of the Labor Code

Is an employer allowed to discriminate against someone based on their hairstyle?

Under a new California law, employers are not allowed to discriminate against people for
hairstyle natural to African Americans.4The California Crown Act (2019) This includes dreadlocks, afros, etc.

What is my prospective employer allowed and not allowed to ask me before hiring me?

In general, they can’t ask you anything that would reveal any protected categories above.

Does an employer need to pay the same amount to men and women?

Employers must specifically pay male and female workers the same wage for the same job, with some exceptions.5Section 1197.5 of the Labor Code


What is the law about harassment at work?

As an employee in California, if you are verbally or sexually harassed or bullied on the basis of any of the protected categories listed in “Discrimination” above, or as a result of retaliation for reporting things to the government (see below), you may have a claim against your employer. 6Cal. Govt Code §12940(j)(1),(3) You also have the right to protection against sexual harassment by your employer, regardless of the basis.7Cal. Govt Code §12940(j)(1),(3); also see federal law at 42 U.S. Code Sec. 2000e-2 But in general, an employer is not necessarily violating employment law for generalized bullying or harassment that is unrelated to a protected category.

Is there a time limit to file a sexual harassment claim?

Yes, as of January 2020 you now have 3 years to file a sexual harassment claim against an employer.8AB 9 (2019)

Are employees required to have sexual harassment prevention training?

As of January 2020, all employees at all companies with 5 or more employees must go through sexual harassment prevention training.9SB 1343 (2018)

Is it illegal for my boss to yell at me?

Generally, no. For the most part, it is not illegal to be a jerk or bully. However, if a superior is acting in this way because they are biased towards a certain protected group of people (see above), this may be illegal.


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