As 2015 approaches there are a number of new laws and amendments in California that will become effective in the New Year. One law in particular that deserves special attention because of its impact in the realm of employment law is AB 1443. This new law will extend protection from discrimination and harassment to new individuals under California's Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).
FEHA is one of the most significant pieces of legislation for employees in California. It offers numerous protections for workers and is a key tool for any plaintiff lawyer in their fight to protect the rights of victimized employees. One area in particular that is addressed by FEHA is discrimination and harassment. The law has always prohibited various forms of discrimination and harassment based on things like race, religion, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc. However, up until now, the express language of the law could be interpreted to preclude unpaid interns or volunteers from protection unless their work was specifically designed to lead to regular employment. Recognizing that the modern day function of internships (not to mention the frequency with which employers take advantage of a system that gifts them free labor) might include spending time toiling away at a job with no prospect of actual paid employment, the California legislature amended the law to make sure that these individuals couldn't also be harassed and discriminated against while working for free. A step in the right direction, to be sure.
The new law will also broaden the protection that unpaid interns and volunteers receive. Before, these individuals were protected from discrimination and harassment only in their hiring and/or termination. Now they will also be protected during training and in the normal course of business. The end result being that during the entire scope of an unpaid intern or volunteer's employment they will be protected from discrimination and harassment. Again, a welcome, if obvious amendment.
The very fact that this amendment needed to be made should make clear the difficulties that employees face in ensuring fair treatment from their employers. Proponents of the law cited the necessity of obtaining unpaid internships in order to improve employability in an economic recession. In other words, times are tough so employees need to do more work for free. Sounds great if you're a short-sighted employer, but not so much if you are anyone else with a stake in the American system. Now more than ever it is important to make sure that your rights and remedies are protected. If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination, harassment, wrongful termination, or retaliation you should contact an attorney immediately. At The Rutten Law Firm, APC we understand the difficulties that many employees face in their places of work. We have successfully represented countless individuals in their employment litigation and will fight hard for you too.