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How To Deal With Discrimination As an Independent Contractor in California?

Emanuel Shirazi

Being an independent contractor in California can be both rewarding and challenging. However, with the freedom to choose projects and manage your own time comes the responsibility of ensuring fair treatment in the workplace. Unfortunately, discrimination is a persistent issue that affects many professionals, regardless of their employment status. By understanding how independent contractors in California can handle discrimination, you can better protect yourself from unfair treatment. Most importantly just because you are paid as an independent contractor does not mean legally you are considered to be one. Many independent contractors are misclassified and should legally be employees. They are entitled to full employment rights no matter how they are classified.

Understanding Your Rights

To tackle discrimination as an independent contractor, you must be aware of your rights. The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) is the primary state agency responsible for enforcing civil rights laws, including the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). Under FEHA, independent contractors are protected from discrimination based on their race, color, national origin, ancestry, religion, sex, disability, age, and other specified categories. As an independent contractor, you have the right to work in an environment free from discrimination and harassment.

Recognizing Discrimination

Discrimination can take many forms, including:

  • Unequal treatment. Discrimination can occur when you’re treated differently from other independent contractors due to your protected characteristics, such as race, religion, sex, or age. This could involve being excluded from projects, receiving lower pay, or being denied opportunities for growth or advancement that are offered to others with similar qualifications.
  • Harassment. Harassment is unwelcome conduct based on a protected characteristic that creates a hostile work environment. Examples include offensive jokes, derogatory comments, inappropriate gestures, or displaying offensive images related to a protected characteristic. Harassment can be perpetrated by clients, colleagues, or even supervisors and can significantly impact your mental well-being and job performance.
  • Retaliation. Retaliation occurs when you experience adverse consequences after reporting discrimination or supporting someone else’s complaint. This can take the form of termination, demotion, a reduction in pay or hours, being excluded from projects, or even being subjected to further harassment. Retaliation is illegal and should be reported immediately.

Taking Action

Once you’ve identified discrimination, there are several steps you can take to address it:

  • Communicate your concerns. The first step is to address the issue directly with the person involved or their supervisor. This can be done informally, through a conversation or email, detailing the discriminatory behavior you’ve experienced and requesting it to stop. Alternatively, you can submit a formal written complaint to the appropriate party, such as a project manager or human resources representative, outlining the issue and requesting intervention.
  • Review contracts and agreements. Assess your existing contracts and agreements to ensure they include provisions for equal treatment and protection against discrimination. Look for clauses that explicitly prohibit discriminatory practices or outline steps for addressing such behavior. If necessary, consult with a legal professional to revise your contracts or draft new ones that provide robust protection against discrimination.
  • Collect evidence. Maintain a detailed record of any incidents of discrimination, including dates, times, locations, and the names of those involved. This documentation will be crucial if you decide to pursue legal action or file a formal complaint. In addition to written records, save any emails, texts, or other communications that demonstrate discriminatory behavior. If possible, gather statements from witnesses who observed the discriminatory actions.
  • Seek internal resolution. Before taking legal action, explore whether the issue can be resolved internally within the organization or with the client. Present your evidence to the appropriate party and request a thorough investigation. If the organization or client takes corrective action, this may resolve the issue without anything further.
  • Contact an experienced employment lawyer. If the issue persists or escalates, contact an experienced employment lawyer. Remember that there is a deadline for filing a complaint. It’s essential to act promptly to ensure your complaint is filed within the appropriate timeframe.

FAQs About Dealing With Discrimination As an Independent Contractor

Are Independent Contractors Protected From Discrimination in California?

Yes, independent contractors are protected from discrimination in California. The Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) covers independent contractors in the state, safeguarding them against discrimination based on race, color, national origin, ancestry, religion, sex, disability, and age. Independent contractors need to be aware of their rights under FEHA so they can recognize discrimination and take appropriate action if they experience it in their professional endeavors.

What Is the Misclassification of Independent Contractors in California?

Misclassification of independent contractors in California occurs when a worker is incorrectly classified as an independent contractor rather than an employee. This can lead to denying various employee rights and benefits, such as minimum wage, overtime pay, meal and rest breaks, and workers’ compensation coverage. California’s Assembly Bill 5 (AB 5) and subsequent amendments have introduced the “ABC test” to determine if a worker should be classified as an employee or an independent contractor, making it more challenging for employers to misclassify workers.

How Can I Stay Informed About My Rights and the Laws Protecting Me From Discrimination as an Independent Contractor?

Staying informed about your rights and the laws that protect you from discrimination is crucial. Attend workshops, webinars, or online training sessions offered by organizations like the DFEH, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), or other advocacy groups. Regularly review updates to relevant legislation, such as the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) in California. You can also consult with legal professionals skilled in employment law to stay current with any changes in the legal landscape that might impact your rights as an independent contractor.

What Happens After I File a Discrimination Complaint in California?

Once you have filed a discrimination complaint with the DFEH, they will investigate the issue. The DFEH may request additional information or evidence from you and your employer. If the investigation reveals discrimination, they will attempt to resolve the issue through a settlement between you and the employer, or they may file a lawsuit on your behalf. If the court finds discrimination, remedies can include damages, such as back pay, reinstatement, and monetary awards. The DFEH will also ensure the employer takes corrective measures to avoid similar situations in the future. We strongly suggest that you do NOT go directly to the DFEH without first contacting an experienced employment lawyer.

Get in Touch With Us at Shirazi Law Firm, PC Today

If you are an independent contractor in California and believe you have experienced discrimination, the attorneys at Shirazi Law Firm, PC, can help. Our experienced lawyers will evaluate your case and provide legal guidance to ensure you are fully protected. Contact us today for a consultation.

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