Be Prepared for the Proposed Amendments to FEHA

It never ends in California!  While we have all been focused on complying with the new paid sick leave law, the Fair Employment & Housing Council has been working on proposed amendments to FEHA.  On July 21st, the Council issued the most recent draft of proposed amendments, consisting of 91 pages.  There is much to review.  Of particular importance is the Council’s proposal as to workplace anti-discrimination policies. (The complete text of the proposed regulation is set forth at the end of this post.) 

The policy must provide for investigation by qualified personnel.  So who is qualified?  The regulations do not answer this question.  Perhaps in many cases this would be the HR Director of a company.  But what about companies too small to hire an HR professional?  Does this include outside HR consultants?  Or will the private investigator industry claim that only they (other than attorneys) are permitted under the Business & Professions Code to investigate such claims?  That’s just what we all need – private investigators with the sensitivities of a bull in a china shop – conducting discrimination complaints!  Or does this mean that a company must now employ an attorney if it does not have qualified HR professionals? 

The policy must also provide provision related to documentation and tracking of the progress of any investigation.  And an employer must provide “appropriate options” for remedial action. 

 This is just one small part of the proposed regulations.  Wish us all luck as we make our way through the regulations proposed for FEHA!

 

§ 11023. Harassment and Discrimination Prevention and Correction

(b) Employers have an affirmative duty to create a workplace environment that is free from employment practices prohibited by the Act. In addition to distributing the Department’s DFEH-185 brochure on sexual harassment, or an alternative writing that complies with Government Code section 12950, an employer shall develop a harassment, discrimination and retaliation and prevention policy that:

(1) Is in writing;

(2) Lists all current protected categories covered under the Act;

(3) Indicates that the law prohibits coworkers and third parties, as well as supervisors and managers, with whom the employee comes into contact from engaging in conduct prohibited by the Act;

(4) Creates a complaint process to ensure that complaints receive:

(A) An employer’s designation of confidentiality, to the extent possible;

(B) A timely response;

(C) Impartial and timely investigations by qualified personnel;

(D) Documentation and tracking for reasonable progress;

(E) Appropriate options for remedial actions and resolutions; and

(F) Timely closures.

(5) Provides a complaint mechanism that does not require an employee to complain directly to his or her immediate supervisor, including, but not limited to, the following:

(A) Direct communication, either orally or in writing, with a designated company representative, such as a human resources manager, EEO officer, or other supervisor; and/or

(B) A complaint hotline; and/or

(C) Access to an ombudsperson; and/or

(D) Identification of the Department and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) as additional avenues for employees to lodge complaints.

(6) Instructs supervisors to report any complaints of misconduct to a designated company representative, such as a human resources manager, so the company can try to resolve the claim internally. Employers with 50 or more employees are required to include this as a topic in mandated sexual harassment prevention training, pursuant to section 11024 of these regulations.

(7) Indicates that when an employer receives allegations of misconduct, it will conduct a fair, timely, and thorough investigation that provides all parties appropriate due process and reaches reasonable conclusions based on the evidence collected.

(8) States that confidentiality will be kept by the employer to the extent [sic], but not indicate that the investigation will be completely confidential.

(9) Indicates that if at the end of the investigation misconduct is found, appropriate remedial measures shall be taken.

(10) Makes clear that employees shall not be exposed to retaliation as a result of lodging a complaint or participating in any workplace investigation.