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Congress debates protections against workplace discrimination

Many California employees know that despite protections, workplace discrimination still occurs. Some employers either promote or allow a hostile work environment where some employees face discrimination because of their race, gender, sexual orientation or religion. According to some studies, discrimination based on sexual orientation is very prevalent in today's workplaces.

In response, one federal law maker has introduced an employment law to protect gay men, lesbians, bisexual and transgendered people from discrimination. At this time, there are no federal laws protecting people from workplace discrimination because of their sexual orientation. Furthermore, 29 states do not offer any protection.

This new legislation -- the Employment Non-Discrimination Act -- was recently introduced in the Senate. Under its terms, labor unions, employers and employment agencies would all be prohibited from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. A similar bill has also been introduced in the House.

While federal law does not specifically protect people against this type of workplace discrimination, California state laws already protect gay people from discrimination at work. Under these laws, it is illegal for an employer to discriminate against an employee on the basis of sexual orientation, gender, race, religion and a variety of other factors.

If an employer fails to stop discrimination based on one of these protected categories or discriminates against people, that employer can face punishment. Under these laws, employees who have been unlawfully discriminated against may be entitled to compensation. This compensation can include back pay, front pay, punitive damages and damages for emotional distress, among others.

No employee should have to suffer through discrimination based on their sexual orientation. While Congress debates wider protections, California employees need to understand that they are already protected and should stand up for their rights.

Source: Bloomberg, "The End to Workplace Discrimination Against Gays," April 24, 2013

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