California law prohibits racial harassment in the workplace

California lawmakers have recognized that it is harmful to society and businesses when there is racial harassment in the workplace. According to the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, the demoralizing nature of racial harassment leads to decreased productivity, increased employee absenteeism and a loss of focus on the companies' core missions. As such, California lawmakers have made it illegal for employers or other employees to harass employees in the workplace because of race. California workers should be aware of the laws that protect them from racial harassment, what a person needs to show to prove racial harassment and the remedies available for those who suffer racial harassment at work.

California employment law

The Fair Employment and Housing Act is California's main law prohibiting discrimination and harassment in employment and housing. The law bars harassment in the workplace due to race, national origin, color or ancestry. The prohibition against harassment due to national origin includes harassment because of a person's language use restrictions. The language of the law affirms that it is each person's civil right to have a workplace free of racial harassment.

Racial harassment can take many forms, such as inappropriate jokes, threats, intimidation, disparaging remarks, insults and racial slurs.

Proving racial harassment

In order to recover for racial harassment, an employee must show that the harassment created a hostile work environment. The test that the court will use to determine whether the alleged racial harassment was severe enough for recovery is whether the plaintiff demonstrates that:

  • He or she is a member of a protected class
  • He or she experienced unwelcome harassment
  • The harassment was racially motivated
  • The harassment unreasonably interfered with the employee's work performance by creating a hostile, intimidating or offensive work environment

If racial harassment is occurring among employees, an employer may still be liable for damages to the employees who are victims if the employer did not take reasonable steps to prevent such harassment.

Procedures and remedies available

Employees who experience racial harassment must report the incident to the Department of Fair Employment and Housing within one year of its occurrence. The DFEH may choose to investigate the matter and try to resolve the issue through conciliation if it finds evidence of racial harassment. If conciliation is unsuccessful, the DFEH may choose to take administrative action against the employer.

However, an employee may choose to forego the administrative procedure and pursue private legal action with an attorney. Employees should still report the harassment to the DFEH and request a "right to sue" letter immediately upon filing the complaint. Those who choose private action can recover unlimited monetary damages for back pay, punitive damages, emotional distress damages, attorney's costs and fees and any other out-of-pocket losses stemming from the harassment.

Everyone is entitled to work in an environment free from racial harassment. If you have been the victim of racial harassment, speak with a veteran employment law attorney with the skills to help you recover just and proper compensation.