California Protected Classes: What Are They?

California Protected Classes: What Are They?

In the landscape of employment and anti-discrimination laws, the concept of protected classes is paramount in California. These classes serve as a legal cornerstone that prohibits discrimination in various aspects of life, particularly within the workplace. 

Protected classes, in a legal context, refer to groups or individuals who are safeguarded by specific anti-discrimination laws, ensuring they are treated fairly and without prejudice. Discrimination based on an individual’s membership in a protected class is prohibited under both federal and state laws, with California often taking a more proactive approach to extending protections and promoting equal opportunity.

In today’s blog, we will explore the intricacies of California’s protected classes, highlighting what they encompass, and why they matter. We will delve into the various groups protected under California law, and discuss the implications of these protections against workplace discrimination. 

We will also address the duties and responsibilities of an employer, as well as the potential legal consequences with the agency responsible for those who violate these anti-discrimination statutes. Throughout this exploration, we will touch on various essential topics, including:

  • Protected classes in California
  • Anti-discrimination requirements for employers in California
  • What to do if your protected class is discriminated against

Facing discrimination at your workplace? You came to the right place.

Protected Classes in California

In California labor law, protected categories or protected classes of people refer to specific groups of individuals who are safeguarded against illegal discrimination, negative treatment and harassment based on their membership in these groups. These protections are designed to ensure equal opportunities and fair treatment in employment and other areas of life. 

The protected classes of individuals in California labor law typically include the following:

Race and Ethnicity

Individuals are protected from discrimination based on their race, ethnic background, citizenship status or national origin. This includes people of all races and ethnicities.

Gender Identity

California law prohibits discrimination based on an individual’s gender, including transgender and non-binary individuals. Gender identity and gender expression are also protected categories.


Discrimination on the basis of age is prohibited, protecting both older and younger individuals from unfair treatment in the workplace.


Individuals with physical disabilities, mental disabilities, or medical conditions are protected against discrimination and are entitled to reasonable accommodations to perform their job duties.

Religious Beliefs and Creed

Discrimination based on an individual’s religious beliefs or practices is not allowed, ensuring that people can freely practice their faith without prejudice.

Sexual Orientation

California law provides protections against discrimination based on an individual’s sexual orientation, including LGBTQ+ individuals.

Pregnancy and Family Status

Pregnant employees and those with family responsibilities, such as caring for children or elderly family members, are safeguarded against discrimination.

Marital Status

Discrimination based on whether an individual is married, single, divorced, or in a domestic partnership is prohibited.

Military or Veteran Status

Current and former members of the military, including reservists, are protected from discrimination related to their military service.

National Origin and Ancestry

Discrimination based on an individual’s national origin, immigration status or ancestry is prohibited, ensuring individuals are not treated unfairly due to their heritage.


Discrimination based on an individual’s skin color is also prohibited under California labor law.

Genetic Information

Employers are prohibited from discriminating against employees or job applicants based on their genetic information or genetic testing results.

These protected classes/categories are defined and enforced under various state and federal laws, such as the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act.

Employers are required to adhere to these laws and provide equal opportunities and fair treatment to individuals within these protected categories. Discrimination or harassment against individuals based on their membership in any of these groups can lead to legal consequences for the offending parties.

california protected classes

Anti-Discrimination Requirements for Employers in California

In California, workplaces are subject to various legal requirements and obligations related to the differential treatment of protected classes, ensuring that they provide equal opportunities and prevent discrimination. These requirements stem from state and federal anti-discrimination laws and regulations.

Employers must adhere to these good business practices to maintain a workplace that is inclusive and free from discrimination. Here are some of the key requirements that workplaces must obey:

  • Non-Discrimination Policy: Private employers in California are typically required to establish and communicate clear non-discrimination policies to all employees. These policies should specify that discrimination based on protected classes is strictly prohibited. The policy should outline reporting procedures for discrimination complaints and detail the consequences for individuals found responsible for discrimination.
  • Reasonable Accommodations: Employers must make reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities to ensure they can perform essential job functions. This may include modifying work spaces, providing assistive devices, or adjusting work schedules for a disabled person.
  • Anti-Harassment Training: Many California employers are required to provide anti-harassment training for their employees, focusing on recognizing and preventing discrimination and harassment based on protected classes, such as sexual harassment training.
  • Equal Pay: Employers are mandated to provide equal pay for equal work regardless of gender. They must ensure that pay scales are based on factors like skill, experience, and responsibility rather than an employee’s gender or other protected characteristics.
  • Recruitment and Hiring: Employers must ensure that their hiring practices do not discriminate against individuals in protected classes. This includes crafting job descriptions that do not unfairly disadvantage certain groups, conducting fair and unbiased interviews, and refraining from making hiring decisions based on protected characteristics.
  • Promotions and Advancement: Employers should promote individuals based on their qualifications, skills, and performance, rather than discriminating against employees in protected classes when making promotion decisions.
  • Termination and Discipline: Employers should apply discipline and termination policies consistently and not discriminate when taking disciplinary actions or terminating employees.
  • Reasonable Religious Accommodations: Employers should make reasonable accommodations for employees’ religious practices and observances, such as adjusting work schedules or dress code policies, unless doing so would cause undue hardship to the business.
  • Retaliation Prevention: Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who assert their rights related to discrimination, such as filing a complaint or participating in an investigation.
  • Posting Notices: Employers must display notices informing employees of their rights under anti-discrimination laws in a visible and accessible location within the workplace.
  • Accessibility Compliance: Employers are required to make their facilities and digital platforms accessible to individuals with disabilities to the extent that it is reasonable and feasible.

Failure to comply with these requirements can result in legal consequences, including lawsuits and financial penalties. Employers should regularly review and update their policies and practices to ensure that they align with California’s anti-discrimination laws and promote a fair and inclusive work environment for all employees, regardless of their membership in protected classes.

Your rights matter. Don’t give up.

What to Do if Your Protected Class is Discriminated Against

If members of a protected class believe they are victims of employment discrimination in California, there are legal options and remedies available under state and federal anti-discrimination laws. Here are the steps you can take to address discriminatory violations in the workplace:

  • Document the Discrimination: Start by documenting the incidents of discrimination you have experienced. Record dates, times, locations, and details of each occurrence, including the names of individuals involved and any witnesses. Keep copies of relevant documents, emails, and any other evidence that may support your claim.
  • Report the Discrimination: Most employers have internal procedures for addressing discrimination complaints. Inform your employer or HR department about the discrimination you’ve experienced. Follow your company’s specific reporting process and maintain a record of your complaints.
  • Consult an Attorney: If you believe that your employer has not adequately addressed the discrimination, or if you fear retaliation for reporting the discrimination, consider consulting an attorney with expertise in employment law. An attorney can provide guidance and legal advice on how to proceed with your case.
  1. DFEH: To file with the DFEH, visit their website, download the appropriate form, and follow the instructions for filing a complaint. The DFEH will investigate your complaint and may attempt to resolve the issue through mediation.
  2. EEOC: You can file a complaint with the EEOC by visiting their website or contacting your nearest EEOC office. The EEOC may investigate your claim and issue a “Right to Sue” letter, which allows you to take legal action in court.
  • Consider Legal Action: If your complaint is not resolved through administrative agencies or if you receive a Right to Sue letter from the EEOC because you have grounds for discrimination lawsuits, you may want to pursue legal action against your employer in state or federal court. An attorney can help you navigate this process.
  • Know Your Rights: Depending on the circumstances, you may be entitled to various remedies, including compensation for damages, reinstatement to your position, changes in company policies, and other relief. An attorney can advise you on the specific remedies available to you based on the details of your case.
  • Be Aware of Retaliation: California law prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who file discrimination complaints. If you experience retaliation, you may have additional legal claims.
  • Stay Informed: Keep up-to-date with changes in California anti-discrimination laws and regulations with an employment agency, or consider joining support groups or organizations that focus on the rights of protected classes. This can provide you with valuable resources and a network of individuals who have faced similar challenges.

Consult with an experienced employment attorney to assess the merits of your case and to guide you through the legal process. They can help you understand your rights, evaluate the strength of your claim, and pursue the appropriate course of action to seek justice and resolution for discrimination based on your protected class status.

Labor Law Advocates Is Here To Help You

All individuals deserve the best employment opportunities, a job that is dignified and where they feel appreciated and respected. Work discrimination not only affects a person professionally, but also has personal and emotional effects that can lead to decreased work quality and motivation to contribute to the organization.

If you or a loved one is dealing with this kind of harmful situation in their workplace, you need to know that you have the right to fight back and go against employment discrimination.

At Labor Law Advocates, we dedicate our work to ensuring that legal employee rights are being respected and that they get the maximum compensation for any damage that they have to endure dealing with harmful situations such as discrimination in their workplace.We care for you, and we want you to feel valuable in your work. We are here to listen to your case, understand the situation and provide the best legal counsel for you to take legal action and get the justice you deserve! Call us today. No fees until we win!


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