In the state of California, social discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations is unlawful. Breaking both federal and state laws, discrimination perpetrated or allowed by organizations carries a heavy cost in the form of potential loss of valuable employees, facing government sanctions, and paying legal costs/possible punitive damages to the victims.
It, therefore, becomes obligatory for every employer in the state of California to familiarize themselves with the local laws, regulations, and requirements related to maintaining a workplace free of harassing behaviors. This begins with getting to know the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) -- the civil rights agency enforcing California's anti-discrimination laws (you can try EasyLlama's Sexual Harassment Training Program for California)
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What Does The California Department Of Fair Employment And Housing (DFEH) Do?
California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) is the state agency in charge of enforcing the civil rights laws of California.
The Mission And Functions of DFEH in the State of California
DFEH's function is to protect the people of California from civil rights violations in the forms of:
Employment discrimination: discrimination against a job applicant or existing employee on the basis of a protected characteristic, such as gender, race, disability, marital status, certain medical conditions, sexual orientation, etc. (Read EasyLlama's guide on what constitutes a "hostile work environment" in California here.)
Housing discrimination: applies to unlawful discrimination -- on the basis of protected characteristics such as race, marital status, physical/mental disability, certain medical conditions, etc. -- committed by landlords, real estate agents, property management firms, tenant screening companies, sellers, builders, mortgage-lending financial institutions, etc. The law is there to protect people in all aspects of the housing market: from renting / leasing, to sales, to advertisements, to mortgage lending/insurance, to new construction, to restrictive covenants (legal agreements that limit the use of land to preserve the value/quality of adjoining land).
Discrimination at business establishments: California's Unruh Civil Rights Act was established to protect patrons/customers from discrimination or harassing behaviors committed by business establishments such as stores, restaurants, hair salons, etc. as well as housing and public accommodations.
Discrimination involving state-funded programs: it is unlawful for programs/activities administered by the state -- or those who received state funding -- to discriminate against people on the basis of race, disability, sex, gender, marital status, and other protected social categories. California's state contractors and staff are legally required to take specific steps to prevent discriminatory conduct from happening in the first place.
Criminal history in employment: a recently added section (known as the Fair Chance Act) to the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) has made it unlawful for the majority of California's employers to inquire about the criminal record of job applicants prior to making a job offer to them. Job applicants should be assessed on their professional qualifications: therefore job ads, applications and interview questions cannot mention/probe the job seeker's criminal history.
Human trafficking / U Visas / T Visas: exploitation of people through coercion, force, or fraud is considered "human trafficking" by the California Trafficking Victims Protection Act and is illegal. Minors under the age of 18 who are found to perform sexual acts of commercial nature are considered victims of human trafficking regardless of force/fraud/coercion is involved. DFEH also presides over T and U Visa certifications granted to victims of particular crimes to obtain legal status in the US.
Hate Violence: the state's Ralph Civil Rights Act was passed to protect individuals who are targeted by hate violence/threats of violence on the basis of protected characteristics like race, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, etc. Bias / hate-related crimes include:
- Written / verbal threats of violence
- Physical assault/violence (or the attempt thereof)
- Hate-related offensive imagery/graffiti (such as swastikas)
- Property damage / vandalism
- Cross burning
- Bomb threats
- Disturbance of religious gatherings
What Is The Difference Between EEOC and DFEH?
Discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations is illegal both, on the state as well as the federal level, and victims have the right to file complaints with either EEOC or DFEH. And while their functions and authorities largely overlap, it is useful to understand the differences between the two civil rights agencies.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Council (EEOC) is the federal civil rights agency that enforces laws set out by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) is the state civil rights protection agency enforcing California's laws set out by the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).
The primary general differences between the agencies are:
- Statutes of limitations: 180 days for EEOC; 3 years for an employment case with DFEH -- and 1 year for all other discrimination cases with DFEH
- Size of company: when it comes to liability for employment discrimination, the EEOC only handles cases of companies with 15 workers or more, with the exceptions for age discrimination claims (20) and Equal Pay Act (2). DFEH requires that the employer has at least 5 workers (and only 1 employee is needed for a sexual harassment complaint)
- Protected classes recognized/protected: the EEOC does not enforce sexual orientation or marital status discrimination. On the other hand, DFEH does not enforce the Equal Pay Act.
Filing Discrimination Complaints With The California Department Of Fair Employment And Housing
When a Californian finds themselves a victim of discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations, businesses, and state-funded programs, they have the right to file a discrimination claim with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.
Until recently, the statute of limitations for filing a claim with DFEH was confined to one year from the adverse action committed. As of 2020, thanks to Assembly Bill 9, victims with an employment case have three years to lodge a formal claim or to obtain the "right-to-sue" letter from DFEH (this letter must be issued before the victim can take the employer to court).
How Long Does The California Department of Fair Employment And Housing Take To Investigate Complaints?
Typically, DFEH can take up to 1 year from the date the claim was filed to complete a full investigation. It retains records for 3 years after the investigation is closed.
How To Contact Department Of Fair Employment And Housing
The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing operates Monday - Friday between the hours of 8 am - 5 pm, except for state holidays.
Those who need assistance with accessing DFEH information either due to disability or a language barrier can call or visit DFEH regional offices.
Communication Center By Phone:
- Call Voice: (800) 884-1684
- Call TTY: (800) 700-2320
- Call California Relay Service (CRS): 711
Contact by email: firstname.lastname@example.org (should receive a response within 3-5 business days)
Mailing address for DFEH headquarters:
2218 Kausen Drive, Suite 100
Elk Grove, CA 95758
For disability accommodations:
- Email: email@example.com
- Call: (844) 541-2877
Victims looking to file a discrimination complaint must access, fill out, and turn in the intake form appropriate to their case. This can be done by:
- creating an account on the Cal Civil Rights System online portal
- printing it out and mailing it to the above-provided address
- calling the above-provided phone numbers to speak with a DFEH representative
Discrimination Prevention Training Is Key To Maintaining A Discrimination-Free Workplace
Of all the employment discrimination charges filed with civil rights agencies, sexual harassment remains the most pervasive form of inappropriate workplace conduct. Considering that every California employer with 5 or more employees is legally required to provide sexual harassment training to all their workers, most California businesses need to look into finding an optimal compliance training software to serve the requirements and their company's needs.
Look no further: EasyLlama's sexual harassment compliance training offers an easy, streamlined solution to getting companies compliant with the legal California harassment training requirements. Made with the latest software and an effective cognitive design, our program makes training not only easy but educational and fun for employees to engage with.