What Are the Protected Classes in California?

There are numerous issues you can encounter in the workplace ranging from wrongful termination, discrimination, harassment, and more. Unfortunately, many employers feel as though they can make decisions for whatever reason because California is an at-will state. However, you should know this only holds true for legal reasons.

In many states, there are protected classes that make it illegal for employers to discriminate against. Recognizing the protected classes can help you understand what rights you have should your employer discriminate against you.

California State Protections

In California, it’s illegal for your employer to make decisions regarding hiring, firing, promotion, raises, and other vital employment options based on any of the following:

  • Race
  • Color
  • National origin (includes language use and possession of a driver’s license issued to persons unable to provide their presence in the United States is authorized under federal law)
  • Disability (mental and physical, including HIV/AIDS, cancer, and genetic characteristics)
  • Ancestry
  • Sex/gender (includes pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding and/or related medical conditions)
  • Gender identity, gender expression
  • Sexual orientation
  • Religion (includes religious dress and grooming practices)
  • Age (over 40)
  • Marital status
  • Request for family care leave
  • Request for leave for an employee’s own serious health condition
  • Request for Pregnancy Disability Leave
  • Retaliation for reporting patient abuse in tax-supported institutions
  • Medical condition (genetic characteristics, cancer or a record or history of cancer)
  • Military or veteran status
  • Genetic information

Source: California State Senate

Because of state and federal laws, if your employer discriminates against you for any of these, you have legal options that allow you to hold your employer accountable. You may be able to pursue compensation for damages you experience. If you have been wrongfully terminated and would like to be reinstated, this may be an option.

Federally Protected Classes

Like state law, federal law specifies protected classes in the workplace – although this list is shorter than state law. Under federal law, the following classes are protected from discrimination at work:

  • Race
  • Color
  • National origin
  • Sex (including pregnancy, sexual orientation, and gender identity)
  • Religion
  • Age (40 and over)
  • Disability (physical and mental)
  • Genetic information
  • Citizenship status

It is also essential to remember that California anti-discrimination laws apply to employers with 5 or more employees even if the federal law applies only for those 15 and up. This means that no matter how many staff an employer has, they must still adhere to state regulations in California.

What to Do if You Face Discrimination

If you’ve been a victim of discrimination in the workplace, it’s vital to recognize the steps you should take. It starts with reporting the situation to the proper agency who can help you. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) helps to regulate discrimination in the workplace, and they should know about whatever situation you endure.

At Levin & Nalbandyan, LLP, we know that discrimination is never easy to endure. You need someone on your side who can help you safeguard your rights moving forward. Our Los Angeles employment lawyers stand ready to give you a voice and protect your rights throughout the process. We are the team that can help you stand up to discrimination.




If your claim has been denied or your attorney has decided to give up, reach out to our firm for a second opinion.