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Amended FEHA Regulations: Employers Required to Update Harassment & Discrimination Policies

Lawyer for EmployerEmployment Defense



by Nicole Kamm





The California Fair Employment and Housing Act’s (FEHA) proposed amendments have been approved and go into effect April 1, 2016. All employers should review the regulations and update their policies.

In large part, the amended regulations incorporate and adopt recent changes in the law.  However, the amendments also add a lengthy new section (California Code of Regulations Section 11023) that imposes additional substantive requirements related to harassment and discrimination prevention and correction.

There are extensive changes to the law.  In this blog, we’ll take a look at three primary areas: 

  1. New harassment and discrimination prevention policy requirements
  2. New definitions concerning transgender applicants and employees
  3. Expanded national origin protections for applicants and employees 

Harassment & Discrimination: Mandated Policies & Procedures

FEHA now expressly states, “Employers have an affirmative duty to take reasonable steps to prevent and promptly correct discriminatory and harassing conduct”, §11023(a). Employers further “have an affirmative duty to create a workplace that is free from employment practices prohibited by the Act,” §11023(b).

In addition to distributing the DFEH-185 brochure, employers must develop written policies to prevent and correct harassment, discrimination and retaliation in the workplace.  Among other things, such policies must: 

  • List all current protected categories covered under FEHA;

  • Indicate that the law prohibits coworkers, third parties, supervisors and managers from engaging in prohibited conduct with the employee;

  • Create an employee complaint process to ensure complaints receive:
    • Confidentiality, to the extent possible
    • A timely response
    • Impartial and timely investigations by qualified personnel
    • Documentation and tracking for reasonable progress
    • Options for remedial actions and resolutions
    • Timely closures
    • Provides a complaint mechanism that does not require an employee to complain directly to his or her immediate supervisor

  • Instruct supervisors to report complaints to designated company representatives;

  • Indicate that fair, timely and thorough investigations giving all parties appropriate due process will be conducted, and that reasonable conclusions based on evidence will be reached;

  • State that confidentiality will be kept to the extent possible, but not that the investigation will be completely confidential;

  • Indicate that remedies will be made should misconduct be found in the investigation; and

  • Make clear that employees shall not be exposed to retaliation as a result of lodging a complaint or participating in any workplace investigation.

Employers are further required to ensure employees are aware of these new or updated policies, either by providing printed copies to all employees with an acknowledgment form, sending the policy via email with an acknowledgment return form, posting the policies on a company intranet with a tracking system ensuring employees have read and acknowledged receipt, discussing the policies upon hire, and/or some other method that ensures employees receive and understand the policies.

Further, in any facility or establishment where 10 percent or more of persons speak a language other than English as their spoken language, employers shall translate the policy into every language spoken by at least 10 percent of the workforce.

Defining Terms: Gender-Related Characteristics

Gender Discrimination

While already a protected category, the amended FEHA regulations include definitions for “gender expression,” “gender identity,” and “transgender”: 

  1. Gender Expression: Gender-related appearance or behavior, whether or not stereotypically associated with the person’s sex at birth.

  2. Gender Identity: A person’s identification as male, female, or a gender different from the person’s sex at birth, or transgender.

  3. Sex: Expanded to have the same definition as provided in Government Code §12926, which includes pregnancy, childbirth, medical conditions related to pregnancy, childbirth or breast feeding, gender identity and gender expression.

  4. Sex Stereotypes: Definition now includes an assumption about a person’s appearance or behavior, or ability or inability to perform certain kinds of work based on myth, social expectation or generalization about the individual’s sex.

  5. Transgender: A general term that refers to a person whose gender identity differs from the person’s sex at birth.  A transgender person may or may not have a gender expression that is different from the social expectations of the sex assigned at birth.  A transgender person may or may not identify as “transsexual.”

The amendments include reference to the fact that sexual harassment need not be motivated by sexual desire and “eligible female employees” under the pregnancy disability regulations include transgender employees who are disabled by pregnancy.

Employers should ensure they display an updated poster regarding pregnancy disability leave before April 1st. (See also the new DFEH Transgender FAQ Sheet.)

Expanded National Origin Protections for Applicants & Employees

The FEHA amendments incorporate sections of the California Vehicle Code to expand national origin protections.

Generally, it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an applicant or employee who holds or presents a driver’s licenses issued under §12801.9 of the Vehicle Code. 

Additionally, employers may require an applicant or employee to hold or present a driver’s license under the Vehicle Code only if

  1. Possession is required by state or federal law, or
  2. Possession of a driver’s license is required by the employer or other covered entity and is otherwise permitted by law.  

A policy requiring applicants or employees to present or hold a driver’s license may be evidence of a FEHA violation if the policy is not uniformly applied or is inconsistent with legitimate business reasons (i.e., a driver’s license is not needed to perform an essential function of the job).

Employer Takeaway

There is a lot to absorb – the amended Act runs nearly 90 pages with numerous edits and revisions. The key things to remember are these: 

  1. Update your harassment and discrimination policies as soon as possible (you must be compliant by April 1, 2016).
  2. Be aware of the new protections regarding national origin and gender.
  3. Make sure critical policies are in writing, employees read, understand and acknowledge receipt, and supervisors are trained on changes in the law and increasing employer obligations. 

Nicole Kamm is an Employment Defense Attorney

This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.


Employers: Criminal History Inquiries May Get Tricky 

Lawyer for EmployersAttorney for Employers


by Tal Burnovski Yeyni





Employment Background ChecksProposed Amendment to California Code of Regulations 

Last week the California Fair Employment and Housing Council of the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (or, in short, the Council) announced its proposed amendment to the California Code of Regulations, aiming to substantially limit the use of criminal history information in employment decisions. 

The use of criminal background checks in the employment context has long been hotly contested. The argument against using the info is that it may have a disparate impact upon a protected class.

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s ("EEOC") 2012 Guidance on Criminal Background Checks, an employer's criminal record screening policy or practice may be biased against a Title VII-protected group (i.e., those protected for their race, gender, national origin, etc.). To avoid discrimination claims, employers must demonstrate that the policy or practice is job-related for the positions in question, and consistent with business necessity.

California state law also prohibits employers from asking job applicants to disclose information or otherwise obtain information about:  

  • Arrests or detentions not resulting in conviction;

  • Information concerning a referral to or participation in a criminal diversion program (a criminal diversion program is a work or education program as part of probation);

  • Convictions for most marijuana possession offenses more than two years old;

  • Convictions that have been judicially dismissed or ordered sealed pursuant to law per Labor Code §§ 432.7, 432.8

There are several exceptions to the prohibition, e.g., when the employer is required by law to obtain the information, the employer is prohibited by law from hiring an applicant who has been convicted of crime, etc. Labor Code §432.7.

New Rules for Background Checks?


The proposed amendment seeks to introduce regulation 11017.1 "Consideration of Criminal History in Employment Decisions."

It would set forth statutory limitations when seeking or considering information regarding various types of criminal history (as stated in Labor Code §§432.7, 432.8). This includes the limitations on state agencies from asking applicants about conviction history, until the agency has determined that the applicant has met the minimum employment qualifications (Labor Code § 432.9).  It also includes additional limitations on employers pursuant to local laws or city ordinances (e.g., San Francisco's Fair Chance Ordinance.)    

Most importantly, the proposed new regulation mirrors the EEOC guidance regarding criminal background checks. It states:

"Depending on factors such as the type of convictions considered, the job position, and the geographic bounds of the applicant pool, consideration of other forms of criminal convictions ... may have an adverse impact on individuals on a basis protected by the [Fair Employment and Housing Act], including, but not limited to, gender, race and national origin." 

Thus, if the policy or practice re criminal information creates an adverse impact, the employer has the burden of showing that the policy is justifiable because it is job-related and consistent with business necessity 

  • The criminal conviction consideration policy or practice needs to bear a demonstrable relationship to successful performance on the job and in the workplace and measure the person’s fitness for the specific job, not merely to evaluate the person in the abstract.  In order to establish the "job-related and business necessity" criteria, the employer must demonstrate that the policy or practice is appropriately tailored, taking into account at least following factors:

a. The nature and gravity of the offense or conduct;

b. The time that has passed since the offense or conduct and/or completion of the sentence; and

c. The nature of the job held or sought 

  • Demonstrating that the policy is appropriately tailored to the job requires the employer to:

a. Show that any bright-line, across the board conviction disqualification can properly distinguish between applicants or employees that do and do not pose an unacceptable level of risk, and that the convictions being used to disqualify have a direct and specific negative bearing on the person's ability to perform the duties or responsibilities necessarily related to the position; or

b. Show that the employer conducts an individualized assessment of the circumstances or qualifications of the applicants or employees excluded by the conviction screen.

  • Note that per the proposed rule, conviction disqualification policies that do not incorporate an individualized assessment and includes a conviction related information that is seven or more years old are subject to a rebuttal presumption that they are not sufficiently tailored.  

  • Finally, the proposed rule seeks to require employers to give employees notice before taking an adverse employment action regarding the disqualifying conviction and allow the individual a reasonable opportunity to present evidence that the information is factually inaccurate.  If the individual establishes that the record is factually inaccurate, then that record cannot be considered in the employment decision. 

But that's not all. Even if the employer demonstrates that its background check policy or practice is job-related and consistent with business necessity, adversely impacted employees or applicants may make an FEHA claim if they can demonstrate that there is a less discriminatory policy or practice that serves the employer's goals as effectively as the challenged policy or practice  – such as a more narrowly targeted list of convictions or another form of inquiry that evaluates job qualifications or risk, without significantly increasing the cost or burden on the employer.

Hearing, "Sentencing" & Bottom Line for Employers


The Council will hold a public hearing regarding the proposed amendment on April 7, 2016. Employers or other interested parties may submit written comments relevant to the proposed amendment until 5:00 p.m. on April 7, 2016.  

If the amendment will be adopted employers who use information regarding conviction history in making an employment decision will have to review their policies or practices to determine whether they can demonstrate that their policies are job related and consistent with business necessity.    


Tal Burnovski Yeyni is an attorney in our Employment Practice Group

This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.


Wrongful Termination & Disability Discrimination: Sarkisian Goes Head to Head With USC

Wage and Hour DefenseEmployment Litigation Defense



by Sue M. Bendavid



Employment Discrimination Defesne


After a much publicized struggle with alcoholism and public firing by the University of Southern California, former head coach for the football team, Steve Sarkisian, has filed a lawsuit against the university.

According to several media outlets, one of the incidents that led to Sarkisian’s termination was the coach’s inability to speak properly at a USC pep rally in August.

The coach was slurring, and used an expletive while speaking onstage. In contrast, Sarkisian claims he had a few beers and took some anti-anxiety medication before the event. Allegedly, USC’s athletic director, Pat Haden, demanded Sarkisian sign a letter requiring the coach apologize to the team and the media, and to obtain counseling with a school therapist.

Sarkisian’s lawsuit against USC asserts claims for, among other things, breach of contract, disability discrimination, medical confidentiality violations, and wrongful termination. Sarkisian is seeking $12.6 million in contract damages as well as additional sums for “extreme mental anguish as a result of not only his wrongful termination, but also the manner in which he was terminated and the statements made about that termination by USC.”

The complaint also states that:

“Instead of supporting its Head Coach, Steve Sarkisian, when he needed its help the most, USC kicked him to the curb. Instead of honoring the contract it made with Steve Sarkisian, USC kicked him to the curb.”

Sarkisian and his attorneys further allege that Haden repeatedly and derisively said “Unbelievable” during a phone call in which Sarkisian asked for time off to get help for alcohol addiction, placed the coach on indefinite leave, and subsequently wrongfully terminated him.

Both state and federal law provide protections for disabled employees. California’s law is the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).  The federal law is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  Both FEHA and the ADA recognize that alcoholism is a form of disability. As noted by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), employers must make reasonable accommodations for disabled employees if the accommodation will not result in an undue hardship on the employer.

Also, under California Labor Code Sections 1025-1028, certain employers must make reasonable accommodations for employees who ask for time off to enter rehab. And, the employer must maintain the employees’ privacy.

What Should Employers Do To Keep Workplaces Running Safely and Efficiently?

Lawyer for EmployerEmployers should remember that alcoholism is a disease recognized by the American Medical Association, and that this disease may entitle an employee to take time off from work. Not only may employees have leave rights under the ADA and FEHA, but also under other leave laws such as the Family and Medical Leave Act and the California Family Rights Act (for employers with more than 50 employees).

Employers who must terminate an alcoholic should do so with caution. They should consider all of the circumstances of the employee, including work history, performance records and other factors. Documentation of misconduct is key to helping prove that the termination was due to performance and not to a disability.

Employers should also establish policies and ensure all employees are aware of such policies prohibiting the use of alcohol or controlled substances while working.


Sue M. Bendavid is the Chair of the Employment Practice Group at our firm. Contact her by phone: 818.907.3220, or by email:

This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.


Claims Dismissed: Social Media Site's Reference Search Not a Background Check

Lawyer for EmployerEmployment Defense


by Nicole Kamm


Good news for employers using social media to vet job applicants: A Federal District Court recently ruled the technology used in LinkedIn's Reference Search does not constitute a “consumer background check” of employees and job candidates.

Reference Search provides a list of coworkers or former coworkers of a particular LinkedIn member to potential employers paying for the service. Subscribers who use Reference Search are encouraged to send In-mail to the individuals on the list, presumably in an effort to find more information about the job seeker.

The plaintiff's in the lawsuit Sweet v. LinkedIn alleged LinkedIn’s search feature violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). The FCRA was enacted in 1970 to ensure consumer reporting agencies protect consumer privacy, and impart fair information.

Employers are entitled to conduct background checks, but under federal and state law must comply with several requirements, including obtaining written permission and making certain disclosures. They must also provide the reason(s) a candidate was not selected should something in the background check lead to an adverse decision in hiring or promotion.

Tracee Sweet and the members of her purported class contended they were passed over for jobs because of Reference Search results. She and three others sought to form a class on behalf of all LinkedIn members who had reports run on their professional backgrounds in the last two years through Reference Search.  

Plaintiffs alleged five violations of the FCRA:

1. LinkedIn is a consumer reporting agency, which failed to obtain required certifications.

2. LinkedIn does not verify or make reasonable efforts to verify, the identities of those using Reference Search, or the purpose for which those users are compiling reports.

3. The FCRA requires consumer reporting agencies to assure maximum possible accuracy of the information provided; LinkedIn failed to undertake any reasonable procedures to do so.

4. The FCRA requires agencies to provide a "Notice to Users of Consumer Reports", which includes a user's obligations to provide a notice to consumers when an adverse action is taken, in this case a refusal of employment. LinkedIn does not provide this Notice to Users.

5. Because LinkedIn provides information to users without inquiring into the users' purposes for obtaining the information, the social media site does not have reason to believe the users have permissible purposes as defined by FCRA.

The plaintiffs sought monetary damages, punitive damages, and attorneys' fees and costs. LinkedIn moved for dismissal, citing the plaintiffs' failure to state a claim, and prevailed.

The federal court judge held that:

1. The purpose of LinkedIn is for members to "share their professional identities online" – the information compiled through the site does not constitute a consumer report.

2. LinkedIn serves to "carry out consumers' information-sharing objectives", whereas a consumer reporting agency's purpose is to furnish information to third parties.

3. The information collected via Reference Search comes from the searcher's networks, not the employment candidate's networks.

4. LinkedIn does not market this information as reliable.

The plaintiffs may amend their complaint in future, so the case is not entirely put to rest yet. Arguably though, the information provided via Reference Search is not so different from the information an employer may glean by calling or emailing contacts s/he may already know at a candidate's former places of work.

Background Checks

For the moment, employers may continue to use social media websites as an informal type of background check without rising to the level of a “consumer reporting agency.” However, employers should only do so with caution. California employers are prohibited, under Labor Code §980, from:

1. Asking employees or prospective hires for usernames and passwords of their social media accounts;

2. Retaliating, by discharging, disciplining, or threatening job seekers or employees for refusing to provide their usernames and passwords;

3. Asking candidates or employees to log on to their personal accounts while in the presence of the employer, management, human resources representative, etc.

Employers using social media may also be at risk for discrimination claims though, should their findings result in hiring, firing or promotion decisions based on protected characteristics they may discover in search results.

For example, an employee who thinks s/he was passed over for a promotion because s/he Tweeted about personal medical conditions or political beliefs may allege Fair Employment and Housing violations.

Before Googling the next applicant or current employees, employers should consider the risks carefully and consult employment counsel.

Nicole Kamm is an Employment Defense Attorney. Contact her via email:; or by phone: 818.907.3235


Transgender Rights in the Workplace: A Guide for Employers to Protect Against Harassment & Discrimination

Business LitigationEmployer Attorney

by Hannah Sweiss



Employer Discrimination Defense AttorneyLast week, President Obama signed an executive order banning discrimination against gay or transgender federal employees and contractors. On the same day, the first gender-neutral bathroom became available in the White House. The topic of transgender identity may be news to many. However, beyond the spotlight, transgender identity and the struggles surrounding transgender persons are real, particularly in the workplace. 

On March 16, 2015, the United States Commission on Civil Rights held its first ever hearing on workplace discrimination against those in the LGBT community.

According to NPR, the EEOC has helped more than 1,200 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons bring employment discrimination claims under Title VII since 2013. Some employer defendants have tried to claim Title VII does not protect transgender persons, but both state and federal courts disagreed.

As transgender rights awareness continues to gain momentum, employers need to be prepared to deal with new issues related to gender identity, gender stereotyping, and gender transitioning.

Federal Protections for Transgender Individuals

In 2012, the EEOC issued a landmark decision in Macy v. Holder, which held that discrimination based on transgender status constituted unlawful sex discrimination under Title VII. In December 2014, the Department of Justice issued a memo recognizing that transgender people are protected under Title VII.

In a landmark ruling issued on April 1, 2015, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) found that the Department of the Army discriminated against a transgender employee who transitioned from male to female, by barring her from using the same restroom as other female employees, and by her supervisors’ continued intentional use of male names and pronouns in referring to the employee after her transition. The EEOC also determined that some of the most common forms of harassment faced by transgender employees constitute unlawful discrimination under Title VII.

The EEOC also recently adopted a strategic enforcement plan for Fiscal Years 2013-16, which specifically addresses "Emerging and Developing Issues," such as protections for LGBT individuals under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. One EEOC initiative under the plan includes forming an LGBT work group to advise EEOC litigators, coordinate internal policies and comment on pending legislation. Another initiative has EEOC litigators filing amicus curiae briefs in lawsuits around the country – briefs filed by someone not a party to the litigation, but who have an interest (usually a social concern) in the outcome. 

Gender Discrimination Law

California Protections for Transgender Individuals

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) makes it unlawful for an employer to refuse to hire or employ a person or to discharge a person from employment or to discriminate in compensation or in terms, conditions, or privileges of employment because of the person’s gender identity. California Government Code sections 12940(a) and 12926(p).

Last year, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (“DFEH”), brought a lawsuit against a California employer alleging it was sex, gender, gender identity and gender expression discrimination to require a transgender employee to use the female locker room and restroom facilities until the employee’s gender transition to male was “complete” after sex reassignment surgery.

The FEHA broadly protects not only gender identity, but also gender expression (regardless of whether an employee self-identifies as a transgender individual). The expanding gender-identity protections safeguard employees who wish to dress like, act like and use the restroom of the gender they identify with, even if they never undergo surgery to alter their appearance. Employees’ gender identity and gender expression (including presenting in a way that does not comport with traditional gender roles) should not be a basis to treat employees differently.

Employer Takeaway

Failing to properly deal with issues of gender identity and gender expression may lead to employee claims. To help ensure a workplace free from discrimination and harassment for all employees:  

  1. Make tolerance part of the workplace culture by having strong anti-discrimination provisions in personnel policies and awareness of gender identity in proactive diversity training.

  2. Ensure employees know harassment and discrimination will not be tolerated based on sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and/or gender expression.

  3. Employees should be addressed by their names or preferred title by all persons in the workplace.

  4. Implement reasonable workplace appearance, grooming, and dress standards that allow employees to appear or dress consistently with their gender identity.

  5. Consider assigning a gender-neutral restroom or locker room to accommodate ALL employees, whether male, female or transitioning.

  6. Ensure the privacy of gender-transitioning employees.

  7. If an employee requests help as he or she undergoes a gender transition, engage in a dialogue and ask the employee to share any concerns. Then, figure what accommodations are best and/or possible. A change in wardrobe could occur overnight, but a transition involving hormones and surgery might take several years to complete. 

Although employers and HR staff may be aware employees are protected against discrimination based on gender, gender identity and gender expression under California and Federal law, transgender discrimination or harassment claims may arise from others employed in the workplace. 

To help prevent such claims, employers should educate their workforce not only through policies and procedures, but also through training. If this means having employees participate in diversity training, then employers should consider making that investment.


Hannah Sweiss is an Employer Defense Attorney at our firm. Contact her via email: or by phone: 818.907.3260.


This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

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