Lately, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) made headlines when it declared that it had filed its first two gender discrimination cases according to sexual orientation.

In the private sector on the grounds of gender, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act forbids discrimination under national law but doesn’t expressly outlaw it based on sexual orientation.

The EEOC has filed two suits both of which allege harassment against workers. EEOC General Counsel David Lopez said that these recent filings “solidify [the EEOC’s] dedication to ensuring that people will not be discriminated against in workplaces for their sexual orientation. While some federal courts have started to understand this right under Title VII, it’s important that courts do thus.”

While it’s fascinating seeing the progress towards uniform national use of sexual orientation protections, the news is not as important to California companies that have had a responsibility to take reasonable measures to avoid harassment and sexual orientation discrimination from happening within their workplaces.

This protection continues to be in place for more than 20 years — since 1993.

Moreover, gender expression and gender identity are also specially protected under California law. The Department of Fair Employment and Housing recently released guidance for companies on transgender rights at work as previously reported.

Your prevention policies should expressly prohibit discrimination and harassment on the grounds of gender, sexual orientation, sex, gender identity and gender expression.

While it is good news to hear that California is ahead of the game, the real question becomes have you as an employer implemented the necessary polices needed to ensure that you are in compliance?
Compliance today in California is no piece of cake. With every new law that passes it becomes that much harder for employers to make sure they have dotted all of the I’s and crossed all of their T’s.

Below is just a couple of things that California Employers need to be doing to ensure that just like the state is ahead of the feds, that you have established the policies that will keep you one step ahead of a discrimination complaint or worse yet a lawsuit.

• Make sure that your Employee Handbook is current
• Make sure that your Sexual Harassment Policy is somewhere between pages 3-5
• Make sure that annually you cover the points of your Sexual Harassment Policy
• Should you get any compliant investigate the complaint properly. This means do it quickly, fairly, and thoroughly.
• If you bring someone in from outside of the company make sure they are licensed.

All employers in California should be aware that Sexual Harassment, is a form of discrimination, and could also be considered a hostile work environment which is against the law.

  • As a California Employer you can save yourself and your employees a lot of headaches if you will just take the time to establish and implement, and enforce good solid polices that will keep your workplace free from discrimination.