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Bill would extend time to file state sexual harassment complaints

California, along with the rest of America, is experiencing an explosion of awareness about sexual harassment in the workplace, as more people come forward to publicly report their own stories. Employers of all types and sizes in the state are understandably concerned about protecting their own employees and keeping their workplaces in compliance with state and federal laws against illegal discrimination and harassment.

In this atmosphere, a bipartisan group of assemblywomen introduced Assembly Bill 1870 on January 18 in an attempt to give victims "more tools and remedies." The legislation would extend the deadline for filing complaints of illegal harassment and discrimination under state law with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) from one to three years after an incident of discrimination or harassment, in most circumstances.

California anti-discrimination laws apply to most employers in the state, but they vary depending on the type of allegation and the size of the employer.

One of the bill's sponsors told The Sacramento Bee that the time extension would help people who do not know there is a deadline to file or who fear retaliation and are afraid to file complaints until they have secured a new job with a different employer.

The bill would extend not only the time frame for filing complaints of sexual harassment allegations with the agency, but also for filing complaints of discrimination and harassment based on the other characteristics protected under state law, including age, religion, disability, race, marital status, military status, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation and others.

This law would not affect deadlines for filing federal discrimination or harassment claims with the federal equivalent agency, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or EEOC. Those deadlines are currently much shorter, usually 300 days for Californians, but can vary.

Legal guidance for California employers

California anti-discrimination laws tend to be more strict for employers (and generous for employees) than similar federal laws. Every California employer should have experienced legal counsel to provide ongoing guidance about how to comply with both state and federal laws.

An attorney can advise the employer about how to keep the workplace legally compliant, including hiring and firing practices, internal complaint and investigation procedures, posting of required notices, drafting of employee manuals and much more. Of course, legal representation is especially crucial to defend an employer that has already been accused of illegal discrimination in an agency complaint or lawsuit.

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