1. What are the best steps to take when approaching my employer about harassment in the workplace?
Avail yourself of the employer’s complaint policy and be sure to put in writing the specifics of your complaint. Always mention that the harassment is based on some protected category such as your gender, race, age, sexual orientation, religion, pregnancy status. Harassment without a connection to a protected category is not necessarily illegal. Even if there is no complaint policy of which you are aware, approach your employer with your complaint in writing. Email is best.
2. Why emailing my employer about a harassment or discrimination matter is best?
If the employer is not going to fix the situation about which you complain, and/or there are negative consequences to your employment as a consequence, you must have evidence that you complained about the discrimination or harassment based on the protected category. You cannot rely on an oral undocumented complaint to Human Resources or management. To the extent the company makes any record of your complaint you can be sure it will be re-characterized as a “personality” or ” mismanagement” issue unrelated to a protected category.
3. Can I get fired if I approach my employer about a discrimination or harassment matter?
Yes, you can get fired, but if you can prove that if it was a consequence of registering a complaint of discrimination or harassment as referenced above, then you have a claim under the anti-discrimination laws for retaliation. Again, this is why complaints must be in writing and reference a protected category.
4. What to do if I am being discriminated against at work?
Avail yourself of the company’s complaint procedure and always put your complaint in writing. If there is no complaint procedure, then make a written complaint anyway. You also have a right to file a claim with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing which you can access online.
5. Can I sue my employer if I’ve been discriminated against?
Yes, if you have evidence that will sustain a complaint and you can prove damages. You can also sue for retaliation if you can prove you complained (IN WRITING!) and you were fired as a consequence.
6. What is considered harassment based on a protected category on the job?
It can be verbal: obscene language, demeaning comments, slurs, or threats
It can be physical: unwanted touching, assault or physical interference with normal work or movement
It can be visual: offensive posters, drawings, objects, cartoons, emails, texts, internet postings
It can be unwanted sexual advances or overtures
It can be micromanagement or nitpicking criticisms from an employer
7. What is considered discrimination on the job?
Whether in hiring, discipline, promotions, demotions or terminations, if the employer-based its decision on a protected category – such as gender, race, age, sexual orientation, religion, pregnancy status – that is considered employment discrimination.
8. Can my employer fire me if I am pregnant?
Not if the reason is because of your pregnancy. It is unlawful to fire a woman because she is pregnant. An employer also has certain other obligations to accommodate a pregnant woman’s need for medical care and time off in connection with her pregnancy and subsequent maternity.
9. Do I have rights to time off from work if I or my spouse or children have personal medical issues that need medical attention?
Under the California Family Rights Act and the Federal Family Medical Leave Act if you have worked for your employer for a sufficient time and you or an immediate family member for whom you have responsibility need time off work to attend to medical issues you may qualify for unpaid leave for up to 12 weeks. You may also avail yourself of intermittent leave to attend to doctor’s appointments and the like.
10. Can I be discriminated in the workplace due to a disability I have?
Not if you can perform the essential functions of the job with some reasonable accommodation by the employer. Sometimes accommodation will also include time off from work to help resolve the conditions contributing to your disability.