Under the existing provisions of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), employers are prohibited from discriminating against employees and applicants o n account of their personal characteristics. Protected classes covered by these protections include race, religion, age, color, sex, gender (including identity and expression), sexual orientation, national origin, ancestry, familial and marital status, source of income, genetic information, and disability. Any time soon, however, another set of people will be set to be included as a protected class: the unemployed.
Indeed, last February 25, 2015, California Assembly member Ian Calderon, a Democrat representing the 57th Assembly District of the state, introduced last February 25, 2015 Assembly Bill (AB) 676. The bill, if passed into law, will be added to Chapter 3.95 (commencing with Section 1045) to Part 3 of Division 2 of the California Labor Code. Said chapter is entitled “Employment Discrimination on the Basis of Employment Status.” Under said chapter, “employment status” means the present unemployment of an individual, regardless of the length of time he or she has been unemployed.
Granted that it reaches several committees in the assembly floor and is signed by the Governor of California, covered employers, as well as employment agencies and individuals operating job posting sites in the Internet within the state, are not allowed to advertise or announce job openings in any medium—i.e. print, digital, etc.—“that includes a provision stating or indicating that an individual’s current employment is a requirement for the job.” However, employers, employment agencies, and individuals running such sites may still indicate the requirement unless the job opening is based on a bona fide occupational qualification or BFOQ.
Likewise, the bill would not allow the same to ask applicants to disclose, either orally or written, information about their current employment status, including them being unemployed, except as specified. Furthermore, employers, employment agencies, and individuals running job posting websites cannot interfere with or discriminate against individuals who exercise their rights specified under Chapter 3.95.
Since this is under the California Labor Code, an employer, employment agency, or individual running a job posting website in the state is subject to civil penalties. Since the bill does not authorize private cause of action, aggrieved applicants may only file a complaint with the Labor Commissioner, which would then impose penalties on those found to have violated the provisions under said Chapter. First violation would incur $1,000.00; second violation $5,000.00, and $10,000.00 for the succeeding violations. If passed into law, AB 676 would be implemented on and after July 1, 2016.
Meanwhile, AB 676 is not the only bill that focused on protecting the unemployed from discrimination in the hiring process. In January 2012, AB 1450 was introduced by Assembly member Michael Allen and co-authored by few others. It would have made California the second state that banned discrimination based on one’s unemployment had it passed; Governor of California Edmund “Jerry” Brown vetoed it in September 2012.
The status of AB 676 is currently active: it has been referred to the Assembly’s committee on labor and employment, with the hearing date set on April 8, 2015.