Employees and job applicants are protected from bias

State laws prohibit discrimination in the workplace

The Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) is responsible for enforcing state laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or employee because of the categories listed in the box “Who is Protected?”


  • The Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) applies to public and private employers, labor organizations and employment agencies.
  • It is illegal for employers of five or more employees to discriminate against job applicants and employees because of a protected category, or retaliate against them because they have asserted their rights under the law.
  • The FEHA prohibits harassment based on a protected category against an employee, an applicant, an unpaid intern or volunteer, or a contractor. Harassment is prohibited in all workplaces, even those with fewer than five employees.

  • The California Family Rights Act (CFRA) requires employers of 50 or more employees to provide job-protected leave for the birth of a child, for placement of a child in the employee’s family for adoption or foster care, for the serious health condition of the employee’s child, parent, or spouse, and for the employee’s own serious health condition.
  • Employers of five or more employees must provide up to four months disability leave for an employee who is disabled due to pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition.
  • Employers of 50 or more employees are required to provide sexual harassment training to supervisory employees, and DFEH accepts complaints when a person believes that an employer has not complied with these training and education requirements.

These state laws barring discrimination apply to all business practices, including the following:

  • Advertisements
  • Applications, screening, and interviews
  • Hiring, transferring, promoting, terminating, or separating employees
  • Working conditions, including compensation
  • Participation in a training or apprenticeship program, employee organization or union

Here are more details on what the law covers and what resources are available from the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).

Filing a complaint

If you feel you have been discriminated against by your employer or a prospective employer, you can file a discrimination complaint with the DFEH. The complaint process starts with filling out and filing a form titled “pre-complaint inquiry.” In general, you must submit this form within one year of the last incident of discrimination, harassment, or retaliation.

That sets in motion a series of legally required steps that DFEH must carefully follow. It’s important to know that DFEH doesn’t take sides when a complaint is first filed. We investigate the facts and encourage parties to resolve the dispute in appropriate cases.  DFEH considers taking legal action if evidence supports a finding of discrimination and the dispute is not resolved.

Full step-by-step description of the complaint process

Flowchart of the complaint process

Filing your own lawsuit in court

You may file your own lawsuit for employment discrimination in court rather than using the DFEH investigation process. This is advisable only if you have an attorney.

You are first required to file a complaint to obtain an immediate right to sue notice.

Note that if you receive a right-to-sue notice, your complaint will not be investigated by DFEH even if you later decide not to file a lawsuit.

Respond to a complaint

If you are an employer and are served with a complaint, you must provide a response within 30 days unless granted an extension. DFEH may interview you and ask for additional records or documents.

It is important to know that DFEH doesn’t take sides when a complaint is first filed. DFEH screens all initial claims and rejects those that do not allege violations of the laws we enforce.

We investigate the facts and encourage parties to resolve the dispute in appropriate cases.  DFEH considers taking legal action if evidence supports a finding of discrimination and the dispute is not resolved.

Here are details on  how to respond.

What remedies are available?

State law provides for a variety of remedies for victims of employment discrimination, including:

  • Back pay (past lost earnings)
  • Front pay (future lost earnings)
  • Hiring / Reinstatement
  • Promotion
  • Out-of-pocket expenses
  • Policy changes
  • Training
  • Reasonable accommodation(s)
  • Damages for emotional distress
  • Punitive damages
  • Attorney’s fees and costs

Who is protected?

California law protects individuals from illegal discrimination by employers based on the following:

  • Race, color
  • Ancestry, national origin
  • Religion, creed
  • Age (over 40)
  • Disability, mental and physical
  • Sex, gender (including pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding or related medical conditions)
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender identity, gender expression
  • Medical condition
  • Genetic information
  • Marital status
  • Military and veteran status

Resources

DFEH provides multiple resources for anyone needing more information on California’s laws against discrimination in the workplace.

Disability requirements

For details on how employers are required to accommodate those with disabilities, click here.

Other workplace issues

If you have a question related to wages, workplace safety, workers’ compensation or other workplace issues, you need to contact the state agency that handles your particular concern. Since DFEH can only enforce California’s civil rights laws, we have provided a list of other appropriate agencies and their contact information.

DFEH cooperates with federal EEOC

DFEH files signed complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) if the matter falls within the jurisdiction of that agency. As a substantially equivalent agency, DFEH’s findings are usually accepted by EEOC.