FAQ: Protected Classes

Protected Class

Harmeet Dhillon

Employment Law: What are Protected Classes?

Discriminatory employment practices remain common in society, together with other forms of discrimination. That’s why the law provides protections for certain people and groups who tend to bear the brunt of this discrimination. These people/groups are referred to as protected classes, and they receive the benefit of special safeguards to prevent against prejudicial hiring or firing, as well as workplace harassment. In California, protected classes are defined by laws and by the courts.

What is a Protected Class?

First, it is important to define the term—what is a protected class, and specifically what are protected classes in California?

A common misconception is that protected classes receive special privileges. This is not the intention of the law; when properly applied, the law exists simply to ensure that all people receive the same treatment—that nobody receives special hiring or firing consideration due to inappropriate factors such as skin color, sexual orientation, national origin, veteran status, gender, age, physical limitation, etc.

Of course, the concept of protected classes may be abused by those who desire special treatment, but that’s a misapplication of the law; in fact, it’s something that an employment law attorney can help protect companies against.

Essentially, when you belong to a protected class, that means the law protects you against both discrimination and harassment in the workplace—which is not the same thing as offering special treatment. These laws also protect against retaliation for reporting discriminatory or otherwise illegal conduct.

If you have questions about what it means to be in a protected class, consult a lawyer today.

Protected Classes under Federal and California State Laws

Protected classes are defined somewhat differently under federal laws as compared to State laws. Federal laws define protected classes in terms of these broad categories:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • National Origin
  • Familial Status
  • Disability
  • Age – 40 or older

In other words, nobody can receive discriminatory workplace treatment on the basis of any of these issues. You can learn more about these distinctions from the EEOC and Department of Justice websites.

California’s employment laws are even broader, expanding on the idea of protected classes in some important ways. California’s laws define protected classes according to the above categories, plus the following:

  • Pregnancy, childbirth, and medical conditions associated with bearing children
  • Marital Status
  • Sexual orientation (also gender identity and gender expression)
  • Ancestry
  • Source of income
  • Medical condition
  • Status as a victim of domestic violence, stalking, or assault
  • Status as a veteran or member of the military

Protected classes in California are defined according to a few state laws, including:

As you work with an employment attorney in California, these are the statutes you’ll be dealing with the most. And if you wish to file a complaint about your treatment in the workplace, an attorney can help you identify which of these laws is relevant to your situation.

Contact an Employment Attorney in San Francisco

Given the complexity of federal and state laws governing protected classes, as well as highly technical procedural issues, notice period, administrative filing requirements, and strict deadlines, legal experience is often needed to navigate employment issues involving harassment or discrimination. Whatever your employment law needs—whether you are an individual who believes your legal rights have been infringed, or a company facing employment-related litigation—it’s important to seek legal counsel.

As a leading employment law firm in California, Dhillon Law Group offers vigorous representation for clients in all of these areas We have handled numerous cases for victims of harassment and discrimination in nearly every protected category. Most of these cases settle privately and confidentially, some before a lawsuit is even filed.

To learn more about our experience handling protected class, discrimination, harassment, and retaliation issues in the workplace, please contact Dhillon Law Group and speak to one of our attorneys. We are always happy to speak with you about these or our other practice areas.

Harmeet Dhillon is a nationally recognized lawyer, trusted boardroom advisor, and passionate advocate for individual, corporate and institutional clients across numerous industries and walks of life. Her focus is in commercial litigation, employment law, First Amendment rights, and election law matters.
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