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A discrimination and harassment free work environment is the best tool in preventing employment law-related complaints and lawsuits. These frequently asked questions and answers provided by The Rosa Law Group will help you begin to develop a mindset of prevention.

1. How much could an employment discrimination lawsuit cost?

If an employee pursues a discrimination complaint administratively with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, the remedies available may include:

  • Back pay
  • Hiring
  • Promotion
  • Reinstatement
  • Out-of-pocket expenses
  • Front pay
  • Policy changes
  • Training
  • Reasonable accommodation
  • Affirmative relief
  • Actual damages, including damages for emotional distress

In addition to the above, the California Fair Employment and Housing Commission may order administrative fines against private employers.  These administrative fines combined with any damages awarded for emotional distress cannot exceed $150,000 per employee. If an employee pursues the case through the civil courts, the damages for emotional distress are unlimited and punitive damages may be awarded.  That is true of all employment discrimination cases.  Remedies may also include the payment of attorney's fees and other court costs.

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2. How much time does an employee have to file a complaint with the DFEH?

In California, an employee has a year from the date of the alleged violation to file a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).

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3. As an employer, can I tell my employees what type of clothing to wear to work?

Yes.  An employer has the right to establish reasonable dress and grooming standards.  There is nothing in the law that prohibits an employer from setting standards of conduct and dress.  The courts have upheld an employer’s right to prescribe reasonable dress and grooming standards in recent cases. For example, the United States Ninth Circuit Court recently ruled that Harrah’s Casino can fire a female bartender who refuses to wear make-up.  Similarly, Costco also won a lawsuit upholding its policy prohibiting facial piercings. However, California employers need to be aware that the California Supreme Court opined in Yanowitz v. L’Oreal USA, Inc. (2005) 36 C4th 1028, 32 CR3d 436 that an appearance standard imposing more stringent requirements on employees of one sex than on employees of the other sex would constitute unlawful sexual discrimination under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). Employers should always consult an attorney on particular situations as the details of the situation can often make a difference.  In addition, case law is constantly changing.

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4. Do I need to create a new job for a disabled employee who needs an accommodation?

No, the law does not require that an employer create a new position, promote, or displace another employee to accommodate a disabled employee. However, the employer must engage the employee in a good faith interactive process to determine what reasonable accommodation would be appropriate for the disabled employee, including researching whether the person could be reassigned to another position.

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5. What is a reasonable accommodation?

A reasonable accommodation is a change in the workplace or in the way things are customarily done that helps qualified applicants and employees with disabilities enjoy equal employment opportunities.

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6. As an employer, can I deny an accommodation?

Employers do not have to provide changes or accommodations that would impose an undue burden on the company. For example, a $30,000 accommodation may not have the same fiscal impact on a large corporation as it would a small business. Because the determination is made on a case-by-case basis, it is best to consult an attorney if you have legal questions.

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7. As an employer, what are my legal obligations to stop sexual harassment in the workplace?

At a minimum, employers are legally obligated to prevent sexual harassment and provide a workplace that is free of harassment.  Some preventive steps employers can take to avoid the types of situations that result in liability include:

  • Implementing a sexual harassment prevention policy
  • Posting a poster from California Department of Fair Employment and Housing in the workplace about sexual harassment (DFEH Poster 162)
  • Distributing an information sheet on sexual harassment to all employees
  • Making employees aware of the seriousness of the violation of the sexual harassment policy
  • Providing well-defined procedures for an employee to bring a complaint of harassment within the organization and ensuring that there is no retaliation for bringing a complaint 
  • Investigating complaints promptly
  • Taking appropriate remedial action, if harassment is found


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Copyright 2006 The Rosa Law Group. All rights reserved.

This information is intended as a resource only; it is not legal advice. For specific situations, we recommend you consult with legal counsel.

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Last Update: Tuesday, May 17, 2017

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