The committee voted to approve a bill which would prohibit employment discrimination among those victims of domestic violence, stalking or sexual assault. The bill passed with a vote of 6-1, although the ultimate fate of the bill is as yet unclear. Speaking before the committee was a California teacher whose abusive husband invaded her school’s parking lot, putting the school on lockdown.
Although Carie Charlesworth’s husband was sent to jail, she was also terminated from her teaching position. Charlesworth told the committee that the fear of losing a job can be particularly problematic for victims of domestic abuse. The proposed bill would additionally require employers to make every reasonable accomodation to protect victims from their abusers. Six states have already implemented laws which protect domestic violence victims from workplace discrimination while three of those states currently require employers to offer workplace accommodations to victims. The California bill is an important one as nearly three-fourths of abused women report their partner harassed them at work at one time or another.
Federal Law Regarding Workplace Discrimination
Under Title VII, the ADA and the ADEA, it is illegal to discriminate against an employee based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability or age. Employees cannot be discriminated against based on their marriage to or association with an individual of a particular race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability or age. It is further illegal to discriminate against an individual who files charges of discrimination or participates in any type of investigation or opposing discriminatory practices. There are a variety of discriminatory practices covered by these federal laws including:
Hiring or firing of employees
Recruitment or testing of employees
Rate of pay, job assignments or classification of employees
Layoffs, promotions or transfers of employees
Any use of company facilities
Employee programs for training or recruitment
Retirement plans, disability leave or fringe benefits offered to employees
Any other terms or conditions associated with the employment
Regarding national origin, not only is intentional discrimination prohibited, it is also illegal to discriminate against an employee or potential employee due to birthplace, linguistic characteristics common to a specific ethnic group, ancestry or culture. In some instances a rule which requires that employees speak only English in the workplace could violate Title VII unless the employer is able to prove the requirement is necessary to conduct the specific business. Religious beliefs and practices of employees must be reasonably accommodated unless that accommodation would impose a serious hardship on the employer. Pregnancy, childbirth and related medical conditions must be treated as any other temporary illness under the discrimination laws. As far as age discrimination is concerned, older employees may not be denied benefits and there must be no statements or specifications in job notices which hint at age preferences or limitations.
Prior to an offer of employment, employers may not ask applicants about the nature or severity of a disability although the prospective employee may be asked about their ability to perform necessary job functions. Employees or applicants who are currently engaged in illegal drug use are not protected under the ADA, and tests for illegal drug use are not considered medical exams therefore hold no protections. Any individual may file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC when the belief that rights were violated exists. Should discrimination be proven, the employee may be eligible for back pay, hiring, reinstatement, a promotion, reasonable accommodations, attorney’s fees, court costs and even expert witness fees.
What is Retaliation?
Retaliation in the workplace occurs when an employee is punished by the employer for engaging in an activity which is legally protected. That “punishment” can take the form of discipline, firing, demotion, a reduction in pay or a job or shift reassignment, but can also be more subtle. Any type of negative action on the part of the employer which would deter a reasonable person in the same situation from making a complaint constitutes workplace retaliation. Determining whether you have been retaliated against can sometimes be difficult. Suppose you complain about your supervisor’s frequent jokes which contain sexual connotations. The supervisor’s demeanor may well change—and should change—but if that change means he is not as friendly to you as he once was, this is not considered retaliation. Only changes which have a direct, negative affect on your employment are considered retaliatory. On the flip side if you lodge a complaint and are fired shortly thereafter, you have likely suffered workplace retaliation.
What to do if You are the Victim of Workplace Retaliation or Discrimination
Employees who feel they have been retaliated or discriminated against should first speak to a human resources representative or a direct supervisor. You are allowed to ask specific questions regarding the change—it may turn out that your employer has a perfectly reasonable explanation. After following the proper chain of command, if your employer is unwilling to change his or her stance or even admit that retaliation or discrimination took place, you may be forced to take your concerns to the EEOC or the California fair employment agency. Documentation is crucial in such cases. From the first moment you feel you may have been discriminated against in your workplace, it is imperative that you keep meticulous records regarding every conversation you have with your employer—or others in the workplace—as well as any other documentation which would help prove your case.
How Pershing Square Law Firm Can Help
We believe in promoting and preserving fairness and safety in your California workplace as well as helping those victims of discrimination or retaliation to fight such abusive employment practices. Many employees are hesitant to confront their employer regarding discrimination or retaliation; with Pershing Square Law Firm by your side from start to finish, you are empowered to fight for what is right. Our attorneys will thoroughly assess the individual circumstances surrounding your claims, then will clearly lay out your options and assist you in choosing the best one for your future. We will discuss both the strengths and the weaknesses of your case with you, always allowing you to play an important role in the decisions which are made.
Those who have suffered discrimination or retaliation at their place of employment are likely angry, frustrated and anxious about their future. There are federal and state laws in place which protect workers from workplace discrimination or retaliation, and just this June a California State Assembly committee voted to increase those protections.