What Business Owners Need to Know About Protected Classes

Any employer who doesn’t want to be in real danger of losing a discrimination lawsuit needs to know about protected classes. These groups are legally protected from employment discrimination through a variety of state and federal laws. Put simply, an employee who is discriminated against based on his or her membership in a protected class has a legal avenue for damages, which can be financially devastating for many small and mid-sized businesses. 

What Are the Protected Classes in California?

Employers in California are prohibited from discriminating against employees on the basis of: 

  • Race or color
  • Religion
  • Age (for employees or candidates older than 40)
  • National origin
  • Sex/gender (includes pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding)
  • Gender identity
  • Sexual orientation
  • Medical condition
  • Marital status
  • Military status (active-duty or veteran)
  • Ancestry
  • Mental or physical disability
  • Genetic information
  • Request for leave connected to health conditions (including pregnancy)
  • Retaliation for reporting patient abuse in tax-supported institutions

What Does Discrimination Look Like?

Discrimination in the workplace can take many forms. Obvious instances of discrimination based on a protected class include not hiring someone due to his or her age, refusing to promote a minority employee who is otherwise qualified, or making crude jokes about a transgender employee. Generally speaking, employers discriminate against employees when they refuse to hire a candidate based on his or her membership in a protected class; when employees are not promoted or given certain benefits due to membership in a protected class; when employees are retaliated against for filing a discrimination claim; or when employers deny a disabled employee a reasonable accommodation (that is not an undue hardship for the employer). 

Oftentimes, discrimination is not as overt as a hiring manager telling a candidate he or she will not be hired because of the candidate’s inclusion in a protected class. It can be as subtle, for example, as having a condition of employment for a specific position that results in most women being preemptively disqualified for the job. 

Why Does This Matter for Employers? 

The short answer is that employers can be on the hook for many thousands of dollars in penalties if current or former employees are successful in a discrimination suit. The monetary penalties, however, could be dwarfed by the damage to a company’s brand or reputation. 

Can You Prevent a Discrimination Lawsuit Against Your Business? 

There is no way to completely prevent future lawsuits against your company. There are, however, many things business owners can do to dramatically reduce the chances of a lawsuit and better position themselves to succeed against frivolous or meritless lawsuits. An experienced California business attorney can provide crucial guidance to help you steer clear of potential discrimination issues before they become real problems.
Integrated General Counsel is committed to helping California entrepreneurs build something that stands the test of time. This includes providing strategic legal counsel during business formation and ongoing legal help as the business grows. Ready to discuss your options with our team? Contact us today

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