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Workplace Harassment and LGBTQ Identities: Your Rights at Work

One of the most important things you can do for yourself as a member of the LGBTQ community is to understand and fight for your rights in the workplace. California, known for its progressive stances on various social issues, has established robust laws and regulations to protect LGBTQ individuals from workplace harassment and discrimination. Below, we dive into the intricacies of these protections, highlighting what constitutes a protected identity, the forms of harassment or discrimination that are prohibited, and the steps you can take to safeguard your right to fair employment. 

What Are Protected LGBTQ Identities in California?

Under California law, particularly through the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), a broad range of LGBTQ identities are explicitly protected against discrimination and harassment in the workplace. These protections cover:

  • Sexual Orientation: This encompasses individuals who identify as heterosexual, homosexual (gay and lesbian), bisexual, or asexual. The law protects individuals against discrimination based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation.
  • Gender Identity: Gender identity refers to an individual’s internal understanding of their gender, which may be different from the sex assigned at birth, including transgender, non-binary, and genderqueer individuals.
  • Gender Expression: This pertains to the external presentation of one’s gender, including behavior, clothing, hairstyles, voice, or body characteristics, which may or may not conform to socially defined behaviors and characteristics typically associated with being either masculine or feminine.
  • Transitioning Status: The law also provides protections for individuals who are transitioning, have transitioned, or are perceived to be transitioning from one gender to another. 
  • Association: Additionally, California law protects individuals who are discriminated against because of their association with a person or group with one or more of these actual or perceived characteristics.

These protections are designed to ensure that all individuals, regardless of how they identify or are perceived in terms of their sexual orientation, gender expression, and identity, are treated equally and without bias in the workplace. 

Legal Protections and Enforcement for LGBTQ Workplace Rights

In California, LGBTQ individuals, as defined above, enjoy comprehensive legal protections in the workplace. These protections are designed to ensure that all employees, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression, are treated fairly and without discrimination in employment. Here are the key legal protections provided to LGBTQ people in California:

  1. Protection Against Discrimination: FEHA prohibits employers from discriminating against employees or job applicants based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. This includes all aspects of employment, such as hiring, firing, promotions, job assignments, training, and benefits.
  2. Protection Against Harassment: The law also protects employees from harassment in the workplace on the basis of their actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. Employers are required to take reasonable steps to prevent and correct such harassment.
  3. Equal Benefits: Employers must provide equal benefits to all employees, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender. This includes health insurance coverage for spouses and domestic partners equivalent to that provided for different-sex spouses.
  4. Gender Affirmation Rights: Employers are required to allow employees to dress consistently with their gender identity and expression. Additionally, employees have the right to use facilities that correspond with their gender identity. Employers may need to provide reasonable accommodations, such as access to gender-neutral restrooms.
  5. Privacy Protections: Employees have the right to privacy regarding their sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. Employers cannot discriminate against employees based on the disclosure or discovery of such information.
  6. Retaliation Protections: California law protects employees from retaliation by employers for filing a complaint, testifying, or assisting in any proceeding under FEHA related to discrimination or harassment.
  7. Required Training: California mandates sexual harassment training for supervisors in companies with five or more employees, which includes training on harassment based on gender identity, expression, and sexual orientation.
  8. Legal Recourse: Employees who believe they have been discriminated against or harassed can file a complaint with the California Civil Rights Department (CRD), which will investigate the complaint and can mediate or prosecute cases of discrimination or harassment.

These legal protections underscore California’s commitment to creating inclusive and equitable workplaces for LGBTQ individuals. It’s important for both employers and employees to be aware of these rights and to uphold them actively within the workplace.

Steps to Protect Yourself at Work

LGBTQ workers in California have several legal protections and steps they can take to safeguard themselves from harassment and discrimination at work. These measures are rooted in the state’s robust anti-discrimination laws, particularly the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression, among other characteristics. Here are key actions LGBTQ workers can take to protect themselves legally:

  • Document Incidents: If harassment or discrimination occurs, it’s crucial to document every incident with as much detail as possible. This includes dates, times, locations, what was said or done, and any witnesses present. 
  • Report the Behavior: Workers should report harassment or discrimination to their employer according to the company’s established procedures. This usually means speaking to a supervisor or the human resources department. 
  • Seek Legal Advice: Consulting with an attorney who specializes in employment law or LGBTQ rights can provide personalized guidance and representation. An attorney can help navigate the legal system, understand the nuances of the worker’s specific situation, and determine the best course of action.

By taking these steps, LGBTQ workers in California can actively protect their rights and seek recourse in the face of workplace harassment or discrimination. Workers need to remember that they are not alone and that there are laws designed to protect them at work. 

Take a Stand Against LGBTQ Discrimination in Your Workplace

California’s commitment to protecting LGBTQ workers from harassment and discrimination sets a precedent for fostering inclusive and respectful workplaces. Remember, advocating for your rights not only benefits you but also supports the broader movement toward equality and justice for all.At Le Clerc & Le Clerc LLP, we are dedicated to helping victims of workplace discrimination take a stand against unjust harassment and discrimination based on their identities. If you believe you are facing harassment at work for being a member of the LGBTQ community, contact us today to learn how we can help you.

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