The rights and legal protections available to LGBTQ people in the workplace have expanded significantly over the past 50 years. Despite this progress, prejudice and discrimination against LGBTQ workers can still be a very real part of today’s work environment. 

In this blog post, we’ll discuss the rights and protections offered under California LGBTQ employment laws. We’ll also explain what illegal LGBTQ discrimination looks like and how to get help if you experience it at work. 

Is It Legal to Discriminate Against LGBTQ Employees in California?

Put simply, no. State and federal employment laws protect the rights of LGBTQ employees to work in an environment free from discrimination or harassment. Under Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act, targeted mistreatment of LGBTQ employees can be considered a form of illegal discrimination on the basis of sex. 

California LGBTQ employment laws offer workers even clearer protections than the federal Civil Rights Act. California’s Fair Housing and Employment Act (FEHA) specifically prohibits employers from discriminating against employees based on the following:

  • Gender, 
  • Sexual orientation, and 
  • Gender identity or expression. 

This means that it’s illegal for an employer to base any employment decisions—e.g., hiring, firing, promotion, wage rates—on an employee’s actual or assumed LGBTQ status. 

There are some requirements for employees to be covered by federal and state anti-discrimination laws. The protections in the Civil Rights Act only apply to employers with at least 15 employees. FEHA’s anti-discrimination protections cover employers with as few as five employees.

What Constitutes LGBTQ Workplace Discrimination?

Illegal discrimination in the workplace can happen in many ways. Some discriminatory acts are more recognizable. Others can be harder to notice immediately. 

Unfair distribution of job opportunities is one of the most basic forms of illegal discrimination LGBTQ employees can face. This happens when an employer awards benefits or makes professional decisions based on illegal factors, such as an employee’s sexual orientation or transgender status. Examples of this kind of discrimination can include:

  • Retracting a job offer after learning a candidate is gay,
  • Firing an employee who decides to transition,
  • Excluding LGBT employees from opportunities for training,
  • Prioritizing less qualified non-LGBT employees for promotions, and
  • Paying LGBT employees lower wages for the same work as straight coworkers.

LGBT employees can also face other forms of illegal discrimination that may be less noticeable. 


Limiting employees to specific roles because they’re LBGTQ can be another form of discrimination. For example, it’s not okay for employers to bar employees from public-facing work roles simply because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. Imagined customer or client preferences are no excuse for discrimination.

Banning Bathroom Access

Employees have the right to use the bathroom or locker room that corresponds to their gender identity. Your employer can’t legally force you to use a certain bathroom because of your sexual orientation or gender expression.  

Not Respecting Gender Identity

This includes the identity of transgender and non-binary employees. Employers can’t punish transgender employees for dressing or presenting themselves according to their gender identity. It’s also illegal to discriminate against employees who don’t conform to perceived gender or sex-based stereotypes.

Illegal Interview Questions 

It’s against the law in California to ask a job applicant about their gender identity or sexual orientation. Interviewers sometimes pose these questions indirectly, for example, if they ask you to describe your spouse. Whether explicit or implicit, prompting a candidate to share their gender identity or sexual orientation is generally illegal.

Denying Health Coverage

In California, your same-sex spouse or registered domestic partner is entitled to the same health coverage your employer gives to different-sex spouses. 

Employees also have the right to receive gender-affirming care through an employer-provided health plan. If you’re seeking medically necessary gender-affirming care, your employer’s health plan must offer the same coverage it does for other essential medical treatments.


LGBTQ employees have the right to earn a living free of harassment and abuse. It’s against the law for employers to tolerate a hostile work environment that targets employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Offensive jokes, insults, intentional misuse of names or pronouns, and other derogatory language directed at someone’s gender identity or sexual orientation can all contribute to a hostile work environment. Misconduct that’s severe and pervasive enough to interfere with your ability to do your job could be the grounds for a legal claim. 


It’s also illegal for employers to retaliate against LGBTQ employees who speak out about discrimination or harassment in the workplace. If you are fired, demoted, or punished for reporting potentially unlawful behavior, you could also be a victim of employer retaliation. It doesn’t matter whether you made your complaint internally to HR or a state or federal authority. In California, retaliation against employees who blow the whistle on workplace discrimination is illegal. 

What Should I Do About Harassment or Discrimination at Work?

No one should have to tolerate discrimination or abuse in the workplace. There are several steps that employees can take to address inappropriate and potentially illegal behavior at work.

First, keep a detailed record of discriminatory behavior. Save any emails, text messages, letters, or memos that could be evidence of discrimination. Take pictures of inappropriate drawings or images in the work environment. Document any conversations or incidents, making note of the date and location of the event, as well as any potential witnesses.

If you feel comfortable, report the incident internally to your supervisor or human resources. Under California law, employers must address and correct any harassment in the workplace. If your employer knows about illegal harassment and allows it to continue, they can face legal penalties.

Reach out to a Los Angeles employment lawyer for advice. An attorney familiar with California employment law can provide valuable assistance, even if you’re unsure whether you’ve been the target of discrimination. A trained employment lawyer can evaluate your situation and determine if your rights have been violated.

If you have been the target of illegal discrimination or harassment, they can help you understand your legal options and how to take action. Employees who experience illegal discrimination or harassment can file a legal claim and potentially recover compensation for their mistreatment. An attorney can provide support at each step of this process, including: 

  • Gathering evidence of discrimination, 
  • Finding witnesses to support your story, and
  • Filing a complaint with the California Civil Rights Department.

If your claim goes to court, an employment lawyer can represent your case and advocate for you to receive the maximum compensation available. 

Legal Advocates for All Employees

Understanding California LGBTQ employment laws is the first step in exercising your rights. Speaking out about discrimination can be intimidating. But you don’t have to go through this alone. The attorneys at Tomorrow Law™ have combined decades of experience helping California workers hold their employers accountable for unfair and illegal treatment. Our team has earned a reputation across California for our aggressive approach to litigation and dedication to clients.

With our team of 20 lawyers and 40 assisting staff, we’re able to give every case the level of resources and attention that employees rarely find elsewhere. If you’re concerned that you’ve been discriminated against, reach out to our office to schedule a consultation. If you retain our services, we only charge fees if we win compensation for you.

Author Photo

David Bibiyan is a distinguished attorney at Tomorrow Law, renowned for his expertise in employment law. With a strong focus on representing employees in various workplace disputes, he has become a trusted advocate for those facing discrimination, harassment, wrongful termination, and wage and hour issues. Bibiyan’s approach is characterized by a deep understanding of both state and federal employment laws, ensuring that his clients receive knowledgeable and effective representation. His commitment to justice is evident in his dedication to each case, where he meticulously works to secure the best possible outcomes for his clients. Bibiyan’s reputation is built on a foundation of successful case resolutions, marked by his skillful negotiation and, when necessary, aggressive litigation strategies. His work at Tomorrow Law reflects a genuine passion for defending workers’ rights and promoting fair employment practices.

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