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5 Steps to Stay Ahead of New California FEHA Amended Regulations That Take Effect on April 1, 2016

On April 1, 2016, California will institute amended anti-discrimination regulations as part of the Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”). The new regulations broaden the scope of FEHA, including the definition of covered employers and the legal requirements for those employers. The new regulations also expand the categories of employees protected by FEHA. Compliance with these amended regulations will require employers to put additional resources and effort towards training employees and preventing discrimination. At first blush, employers may consider these new FEHA requirements onerous, but implementing the 5 steps below may provide an employer with stronger legal defenses.

Step 1: All Employers, Including Those Outside California, Should Check to See if They are Covered by the FEHA Amendments

The amended FEHA regulations expand the definition of “covered employer” by including companies who have a total of five employees, even if they have less than five employees in the State of California. This change will impact out of state employers with five or more employees who have any employees within California. All employers, including those who are headquartered outside of California, should check whether they fall within this new definition. 

Step 2: Identify Additional Individuals Now Protected Under these Amendments

FEHA protections against discrimination and harassment now apply to unpaid interns and volunteers. While the revisions do not go as far as to designate these individuals as employees, for the purposes of FEHA, they must receive the same information and treatment as employees. 

Step 3: Broaden Your Definitions for Gender Discrimination

FEHA now includes additional types of gender discrimination, including:

  • Gender Expression - a person’s gender-related appearance or behavior, whether or not stereotypically associated with the person’s sex at birth;

  • Gender Identity - a person's identification as a gender different from the person’s sex at birth;

  • Transgender - a general term for a person whose gender identity differs from the person’s sex at birth; 

  • Sex Stereotyping - or making assumptions about an individual’s ability or inability to perform certain kinds of work based on appearance, myth, social expectation, or generalization about the individual’s gender.

Step 4: Employers Must Update and Redistribute Their Policies

Historically, in California, only sexual harassment policies have had to be in writing. Now, all anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies must be in writing and must include:

  • Categories of individuals protected by the FEHA;

  • All employees and third parties are prohibited from engaging in discrimination, harassment or retaliation;

  • A confidential, internal complaint procedure that includes specific remedial measures and provides an alternative method to file a complaint other than contacting a direct supervisor;

  • Instructions to supervisors on how to report complaints of misconduct; 

  • Assurances that allegations of misconduct will be addressed through a fair, timely and thorough investigation; and

  • Guarantees that the company will not retaliate against employees for lodging a complaint or participating in an investigation. 

Once the policies have been updated, ensure that the new policies are distributed to all employees, unpaid interns and volunteers. If appropriate, post on the company intranet site.  Provide a signature page or acknowledgment of receipt to ensure receipt by all individuals and retain such records

If more than 10% of the company workforce speaks a primary language other than English, employers should translate and distribute the policies in that language. 

Step 5:  Training is the Cornerstone of Prevention

Employers should make sure to provide training to all employees regarding these new policies and issues raised by the FEHA amendments, including proper complaint and investigation procedures. Further, employers should include all written new policies in new-hire paperwork during the onboarding process and train appropriate personnel to respond to potential complaints.  

© Polsinelli PC, Polsinelli LLP in California

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About this Author

Anne Cherry Barnett, Attorney, Polsinelli Law Firm
Principal

With an eye toward being a valued resource and partner to clients, Anne Cherry Barnett approaches each matter with the goal of streamlining costly litigation and achieving the client’s objectives successfully and efficiently. Anne focuses her practice on employment matters and has represented clients of all sizes. She prides herself on providing sound and cutting edge legal strategies that consistently focus on the client’s bottom line as they navigate the complex labyrinth of California and Federal employment regulations. Anne has represented employers in single...

415-248-2102
Emily Knoles, Polsinelli, Business Best Practices Attorney, Employment Rights Lawyer
Associate

Emily Knoles is dedicated to helping clients efficiently and effectively address their labor and employment law needs. She believes the key to a successful business is to ensure that the work place is reflective of the best practices of the business. Emily thoroughly and thoughtfully represents clients in all areas of labor and employment law including:

  • Crafting personnel policies, procedures and contract documents

  • Advising companies on personnel disputes 

  • Training on best practices

  • Representing and advocating on behalf of clients at all stages of litigation - from pre-litigation through appellate work in both Federal and State Courts

415.248.2107