As of April 1, 2016, the California Fair Employment and Housing Council has implemented new regulations for constructing employment policies against harassment and discrimination in the workplace. Any employer with five or more employees is required by law to have a written policy against harassment and discrimination in the workplace, and there are certain requirements that these new policies must meet.
An employer’s policy must list all of the protected parties that fall under the Fair Employment and Housing Act, which includes but is not limited to: gender, race, physical and mental disabilities, sexual orientation, religion, marital status, and age. The purpose of the policy is to prevent harassment and discrimination in the workplace. Therefore, the policy must also state the prohibition of unlawful harassment and discrimination by managers, supervisors, and coworkers. The policy must also mention that volunteers, unpaid interns, and contractors are part of this agreement as well.
The policy must also establish a formal complaint process for employees who feel that they have been discriminated against or harassed in the workplace. An employee must not be forced to complain to their immediate supervisor, rather there must be an access path either to human resources, a superior to the immediate supervisor, the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Confidentiality is a crucial requirement in these policies. Employees should feel that their complaints will be heard and will not be made public. Similarly, an employee should feel that there will be a timely response to a complaint and that there will be an unbiased investigation into the claim.
Perhaps the most important part of these new regulations is the zero tolerance for retaliation policy. An employment policy must state that employees and others who complain of discrimination or harassment violations or participate in their investigation are protected from all forms of retaliation. The California Whistleblower Protection Act now also covers employees who file complaints for actions they believe to be illegal so long as the employee had reasonable cause to believe that he or she was reporting an illegal activity.
Once the employment policy has been assembled, the final step in these new regulations is that the policy must be distributed to all employees. The employees should be given the opportunity to read over the policy and to sign an acknowledgment statement that they have read and understood their rights.
If you believe that you have been harassed or discriminated against in the workplace, or you feel that your employer has failed to construct and distribute a policy that strictly prohibits harassment, discrimination, and retaliation in the workplace, you should consult an employment attorney to learn your rights.