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Protection from job discrimination under California law

Los Angeles workers who've been treated unjustly by employers often don't know where to turn. You have to know your employment rights before you exercise them. An attorney can be a good place to start, since the nature of a complaint determines the next step.

Questions and complaints involving workplace discrimination or harassment can be directed to the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. You may be aware of the classes of workers shielded by federal discrimination laws. Protected classes are expanded under the state Fair Employment and Housing Act.

It is illegal for employers to discriminate against prospective employees or hired workers at any phase of employment. Under state law, prejudicial treatment is prohibited against employees because of age, marital status, sexual orientation, gender or gender identity, race or color, genetic history or ancestry, a medical condition or disability and national origin.

Each protected class contains subsets. For instance, religious discrimination entails forbidding a worker to wear hairstyles, certain garments or jewelry linked to personal religious beliefs. Employers are expected to make "reasonable accommodations" for this and other individual issues, like pregnancy or qualified leave.

Harassment of applicants and employees, including independent contractors, is unlawful. Employers also must take actions to stop and prevent harassment or face repercussions like civil lawsuits for damages.

What kinds of damages are we talking about?

Companies that violate employment laws may be forced to compensate harmed workers for emotional distress, front or back pay and costs associated with a case, including legal fees. The employer may be order to hire, promote or reinstate an employee and, in some cases, pay punitive damages - compensation for outrageous behavior.

An attorney is a good resource to find out whether a complaint is justified or learn more about employee rights. If you feel wronged by an employer, it's likely other applicants or colleagues feel the same way.

Source: California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, "California Law Prohibits Workplace Discrimination and Harassment" accessed Feb. 27, 2015

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