What is the Fair Employment Housing Act (FEHA) and What Does it Cover?

The Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) is the primary California law that prohibits employment discrimination, harassment, and retaliation in the workplace for a variety of protected categories.  For example, employer are not allowed to treat and employee differently based on the employee’s age (40 and over), ancestry, color, religion, disability, marital status, national origin, race, sex, gender (including gender identity and gender expression), and sexual orientation.  Most of these laws protect employees who work for employers who have five or more full or part-time employees.  Some anti-harassment policies apply to any workplace where an employer has one or more employees.

“Employment Harassment” or “workplace harassment” is any unwelcome conduct that is based on race, sex, religion, or any of the other categories mentioned above.  Harassment becomes unlawful when enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment or when the conduct is so severe or pervasive that a reasonable person would consider the work environment to be intimidating or hostile.

“Employment discrimination” or “workplace discrimination” is when an employer treats an employee differently based on the employee protected traits (such as age, sex, race, color, etc.). This type of discrimination applies to both applicants for jobs and current employees.

“Retaliation” by employers (sometimes referred to as “whistleblowing” is when an employer punishes an employee for disclosing information about illegal activity (such as fraud, discrimination, harassment, OSHA violations, etc.).  The laws apply to protect employees when they are a target of retaliation because the employer believed that the employee disclosed said information.  Forms of retaliation include: a shift in responsibilities, a change in the work schedule, or termination.  An employee is protected from retaliation when reporting to a government or law enforcement agency, a person with authority of the employee, an employee with the authority to investigate the claim, and when providing testimony before any public body conducting the investigation.

It is important that you understand your employment rights.  If you believe that you have been harassed, discriminated against, or retaliated against by your employer, you should consult an employment attorney to learn your rights and seek legal action if necessary.

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