How are LGBTQ workers protected in California?

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibit employers from discriminating against anyone because of their sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.

While limited exceptions exist – for religious institutions and companies with fewer than five employees – the vast majority of workers and job applicants in California are protected. Those exemptions do not allow employers to harass workers for any reason.

What constitutes LGBTQ harassment?

This form of discrimination occurs when an employer, supervisor or coworker (with the employer’s knowledge) subjects a person to an intimidating, hostile and offensive work environment due to their sexual orientation, gender expression and identity. For this behavior to be illegal, it must be unwelcome and so damaging that it interferes with a person’s ability to do their job.

Other protections for LGBTQ workers

When you come to work, you expect to be judged on your job performance and not your sexual orientation. Yet, this type of discrimination occurs regularly in the workplace. The FEHA provides extensive protections for LGBTQ workers, including:

  • Non-binary identity: Employers must respect all identities and expressions, including non-conforming and non-binary identities.
  • Restroom facilities: Employers cannot dictate which facilities you use. If a workplace has single-stall restrooms, they must label them as “All Gender,” “Gender Neutral,” “Unisex” or something similar.
  • Names and pronouns: You have the right to be addressed by your specified name and pronoun, regardless of whether you have changed them legally. An employer refusing to recognize your preferred identity can be guilty of harassment.
  • Perceived sexual orientation: People who are not LGBTQ are protected when an employer is mistaken about their identity and mistreats them as a result.
  • Retaliation: The law protects you if your employer punished you as a result of a discrimination or harassment complaint. Retaliation is the most common discrimination claim among workers.

Hold unscrupulous employers accountable

Workers who experience discrimination over their sexual orientation often suffer in silence, and many leave their jobs to avoid the demeaning and hostile environment. However, an experienced sexual orientation discrimination lawyer can help you recover damages for this mistreatment.

Workers can receive back pay, lost pay from a deserved promotion or raise that was denied, pension benefits and lost bonuses. You may also receive non-economic damages for pain and suffering, which punish an employer for their wrongful actions and seek to prevent future discriminatory behavior.

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