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Protected characteristic or activity

Workplace Discrimination & Harassment

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) enforces laws that protect you from illegal discrimination and harassment in the workplace. 

Even though “discrimination” and “harassment” are terms that many people use interchangeably, there is a significant legal difference between the two.

What is the difference between Discrimination and Harassment?

  • Discrimination is when an employer takes an "adverse action" against an employee because of a protected characteristic or activity

    An adverse action can be termination, demotion, a cut in pay, or an undesirable transfer.


  • Harassment is when an employee is treated poorly (name calling or unwanted touching) because of a protected characteristic or activity. 

For example:

Maria is an employee for Company X.


Maria is discriminated against if she is fired because she is a woman.

Maria is harassed if Steve, her boss, calls her a derogatory name because she is a woman.

What is a protected characteristic?

Under California law, an employer cannot use certain traits or characteristics against an employee.

These protected characteristics include:


  • race

  • religion

  • color

  • national origin

  • ancestry 

  • physical disability

  • mental disability

  • medical condition

  • genetic information

  • marital status

  • sex

  • gender

  • gender identity

  • gender expression

  • age

  • sexual orientation

  • military/veteran status


In California, both harassment and discrimination include every one of the characteristics above.

Who is liable for discrimination and harassment in the workplace?

In discrimination cases, only the company is liable. The individual who does the discriminating will not be personally liable because the adverse action stems from the company.

But in harassment cases, the person who does the harassing may be personally liable.  The harasser can be sued regardless of whether or not the employer knew the harassment was occurring.

If you believe you have experienced workplace discrimination or harassment, contact Reyes & Associates right away.

While our main office is located near Downtown Los Angeles, we also offer 100% free, easy to use, and secure video call consultations to serve clients throughout California.

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