Most people understand that there are laws to protect them from discrimination and harassment in the workplace. However, what many people do not understand is the source of those laws and how federal and state enactments work together to preserve and protect their rights. Understanding how the rights and remedies available in your state compare to those mandated by the federal government can help you better understand your rights in the workplace and what to do when you believe they have been violated.
Federal workplace discrimination laws, which include several separate acts administered by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), prohibit workplace discrimination and harassment based on race, color, national origin, religion, gender, disability, age or genetic traits. Bills have been proposed that would extend this to sexual orientation and employment status as well, but these have not yet become law. While this is expansive, several states choose to go even further for their residents:
California additionally prohibits employment discrimination based on marital status, sexual orientation or a medical condition not amounting to a disability through the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).
Oregon also prohibits employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, marital status, family relationship or association within a member of a protected class.
The Washington State Law Against Discrimination prohibits employment discrimination based on marital status and sexual orientation.
Federal and state remedies are not mutually exclusive and in most cases employees can pursue both. However, in some cases involving smaller employers or when the type of discrimination is one not covered by federal law, victims of discrimination may still turn to the remedies provided in their own states for justice.