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Articles Posted in Employment Law

The unprecedented conditions of the last year have affected everyone in multiple ways. These impacts have also affected California’s legislators, who have enacted several news laws – and are contemplating others – that have a direct impact on workers across the state. If you believe you’ve been harmed by harassment or discrimination at work, you need a knowledgeable Oakland employment attorney who is not only experienced in handling these kinds of cases but also is completely up-to-date on any and all of the changes in the law.

If a Bay Area member of the Assembly’s proposal becomes law, then California discrimination law would feel a very direct effect. AB 1119, proposed by Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks of Oakland, would expand the anti-discrimination protections available to workers and job applicants in this state by adding an additional protected class within the Fair Employment and Housing Act’s safeguards against employment discrimination.

That class is people with “family responsibilities.” The spectrum of people who may fall within this class is potentially a wide one. This class can include parents of young children, children with parents in need of care, and people who provide care to family members with disabilities.

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We have been living with COVID-19 for more than a year now. One very important development that, for many, represents a huge “light at the end of the tunnel” is the availability of a COVID-19 vaccine. Vaccinations, though, maybe problematic for many workers. Some may have religious objections and others many ethical objections. Still others may have medical reasons why they cannot receive the vaccine. An employer’s mandate of a worker’s vaccination may, in certain circumstances, represent a form of religious discrimination or disability discrimination in violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act. If you think you’ve been the target of workplace discrimination for refusing to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, you should contact an experienced Oakland employment lawyer promptly to discuss your legal options.

Back on March 4, 2021, the Department of Fair Employment and Housing published an update to its DFEH Employment Information on COVID-19. The updated material was specifically targeted toward the issue of vaccinations.

In that updated document, the department confirmed that generally speaking, employers may require that their employees get one of the FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccines. What employers may not do, however, is demand that all employees get vaccinated, even those who presented the employer with an objection based upon his/her disability or sincerely-held religious belief.

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People may offer all kinds of unsolicited legal opinions all the time. “Oh, that kind of accident isn’t something you can sue for.” “That kind of medical problem isn’t something you can win a discrimination case on.” And so on, and so on. Most of these opinions will inevitably come from non-lawyers. Don’t listen to them. If you think you’ve been harmed – such as suffering disability discrimination at work – make sure you are armed with reliable knowledge before you make any serious decisions. Reach out to a skilled Oakland employment attorney to get the information and the advice you need.

When it comes to disability discrimination in California, a recent discrimination case from Los Angeles reminds readers of a couple of different – and equally important – truths about disability discrimination law in California.

The first is that, just because you may not have a federal disability discrimination case, that doesn’t mean you have no potential disability discrimination case in California. The federal disability discrimination law (the Americans With Disabilities Act or ADA) establishes what the law calls a “floor” for discrimination prohibition. That means that state law cannot do less to protect people with disabilities, but it can do more.

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The law is frequently slow to change but, as society evolves, the law often follows along eventually. The Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA)’s protections against workplace discrimination are no exception. For example, sexual orientation became a protected class in 2000 and an amendment added gender identity/expression as a protected class in 2004. As the law is ever-changing, it is vitally important to make sure that, if you’ve suffered harm from discrimination on the job, you’re working with an experienced Oakland employment discrimination attorney who has an in-depth and up-to-date knowledge of all the relevant federal and California discrimination laws.

A Riverside County Republican senator has proposed a bill that, if it becomes law, would add yet another class that is protected against discrimination under the FEHA, according to East County Today. That class would be political affiliation. The “Diversity of Thought Act,” introduced by state Sen. Melissa Melendez, would insert “political affiliation” into the FEHA in three places. Those are Section 12920, Section 12940, and Section 12955 of the California Government Code.

The bill represents, according to the senator, an important protection against a rising societal problem, which is the so-called “cancel culture,” in which people may suffer a variety of harms, including employment discrimination, because of their political views, beliefs, and affiliations, according to the report.

Our system of civil litigation in California is based, in part, upon the idea that, generally, it is preferable when cases are resolved on their actual merits, not by one side using some technicality to sidestep addressing the merits. One of the implications of that notion of justice is that if you’ve put enough in your complaint to put the other side “on notice” of a basis for liability, you are entitled to pursue that basis. When it comes to putting together the strongest and most effective complaints (and case presentations,) be sure you are relying upon the experience of a knowledgeable Oakland employment attorney.

This concept proved very important to a police department employee in her recent sexual harassment case. S.A. had been a bomb tech for seven years when a male coworker, H.L., decided to make a play for her affections. He told her he had been “madly in love” with her for more than six years and planned to leave his wife due his love for her. S.A., who was a lesbian and had a female partner (all of which H.L. knew,) told H.L. that she didn’t love him and to leave her alone.

What allegedly ensued was a pervasive pattern of stalking. According to the complaint, H.L. showed up at restaurants where S.A. was eating, “bombarded” her with phone calls, texts and emails, and even showed up to S.A.’s job sites though he was assigned to a different detail. Eventually, the man allegedly cornered her and forcibly kissed her.

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As the calendar turned from 2020 to 2021, most of California remained under a “stay-at-home” order. For some Bay Area residents, the lifting of lockdown orders may actually exacerbate, rather than reduce, the challenges they face. Many people who were working before the pandemic struck may find themselves forced to remain at home, needing to care for their young children whose daycare remains closed or whose school-aged children remain waiting for their schools to reopen to in-person learning. Be advised that if COVID-19 has forced you to take time away from your job to care for your family, the Fair Employment and Housing Act offers protection against discrimination and/or retaliation related to your taking leave for caretaking activities. If you’ve suffered that kind of harm in your job, you should take immediate action and contact an experienced Oakland employment attorney.

The Families First Act went into effect in April of last year. That law expanded the availability of family and medical leave. Once you return to your job after a period of leave, your employer is forbidden by California law from punishing or taking any kind of adverse employment action against you (like termination, demotion, reduction of hours, reduction of benefits, negative performance assessment, reassignment to a less desirable shift, etc.) because you took that leave.

Say, for example, that you take several weeks of leave to care for your three-year-old child because your child’s previous daycare closed due to COVID-19, and you could not find a new one immediately. Once you returned to work, your coworkers began treating you differently. Three weeks after your return, your supervisor gave you a negative performance review, which you had never before received in your seven years with the company.

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Many times, when you begin a new job, you are presented with a massive stack of papers to read and sign. The whole thing can seem daunting and it may be tempting simply not to read all the “fine print.” Beware, though. The employment contract you sign may involve forfeiting various rights you have, such as suing in court if you’re later the victim of discrimination or harassment. The good news is that, even if you did sign such an agreement, there may be ways to avoid its enforcement. If you’ve been harmed at work by discrimination or harassment, whatever the details of your employment agreement were, reach out to a knowledgeable Oakland employment attorney to discuss your rights and your options.

S.D. was an example of someone who was able to avoid the hurdle that his arbitration agreement presented. He held a managerial sales position at the maker of a popular energy drink when he was fired in 2018. After that termination, S.D. sued for age discrimination and sex harassment. S.D., who was in his mid 50s when he sued, alleged that he was targeted for termination because of his age and because he had supported women who were sexually harassed by high-ranking males at the company.

The employer asked the court to order both sides to arbitration. The basis for this request was the arbitration agreement S.D. had signed when he began working for the company.

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Having to endure racial slurs or epithets at work can be an extremely troubling thing, even if the word was used exactly once. In some situations, even just a single use of certain slurs or epithets can be enough to constitute the evidence you need for a successful workplace discrimination lawsuit under the Fair Employment and Housing Act. If that is something you’ve had to deal with at work, a favorable judgment and a substantial award of compensation may be within your reach, so contact an experienced Oakland employment discrimination attorney without delay.

Back in September, the Court of Appeal issued a ruling in an employment discrimination case that, while bad news for the employee who sued, represents potentially very good news for other workers who’ve heard certain slurs at work.

T.B., a Black woman who was an investigative assistant with a Bay Area district attorney’s office, became startled when a mouse ran through the area in which she was working. A coworker mocked her, saying, “you… is so scary.” There was, however, a word between “you” and “is.” That word was that profoundly toxic slur, the “n-word.”

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People with criminal convictions in their past face many challenges as they seek to rebuild their lives and return to participating fully in society. One of the bigger challenges they face is discrimination in the job application process. Fortunately, the State of California enacted the Fair Chance Act in 2018, which significantly restricts what employers can do in terms of asking about your criminal history. If you’ve been removed from an employment applicant pool because of your past conviction, that employer may have broken the law. Contact an experienced Oakland employment attorney to learn more and find out what you can do.

The Fair Chance Act is a kind of “Ban the Box” law. The “box” in question is the one next to a job application question asking you about whether or not you have a criminal history. The Fair Chance Act bans this kind of question, requiring employers to forego seeking applicants’ criminal histories prior to extending a job offer.

Along the way, the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) has enacted various regulations that implement the Fair Chance Act, including some that were composed only recently and went into effect October 1, 2020.

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About four years ago, a Fresno-area employment attorney wrote a blog post about a workplace discrimination case in which he gave employers the free advice of “don’t be a jerk.” OK, he didn’t use the work “jerk,” but you can still absorb the author’s main idea. Employers being jerks can do themselves quite a bit of damage. They may cause good employees to leave, good candidates to stay away and, sometimes, they may run afoul of discrimination law, particularly when it comes to creating hostile work environments. When you’ve faced that kind of harm on the job, it is important to reach out to an experienced Oakland employment attorney promptly.

Some employees may face bigger hurdles than others. For example, if you work for an employer that’s a church or church-related entity (such as, for example, a Catholic school,) then you may find that the discrimination you suffered at work may not be something upon which you can sue. That’s because of something called the “ministerial exception.” In fact, a U.S. Supreme Court case that recently ruled against two Catholic school teachers (one fired due to age and one fired due to disability,) made it clear just how broad the ministerial exception is.

Even when the hurdles are high, such as working for a religious employer, it is important to seek out capable legal advice before you decide to abandon your case. Sometimes, the totality of the facts in your case may still provide you with some legal avenue for compensation. For example, a religious employer may be able to demote or fire you because of your disability, age or sex, under the protection of the ministerial exception but, as one recent case illustrates, may be liable if it so humiliated, harassed and belittled you as to create a hostile work environment.

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