By:  James L. Brannen

Currently, the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) protects the right of persons to seek, obtain, and hold employment without discrimination on account of various classes including, “race, religious creed, color, national origin, ancestry, physical disability, mental disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, age, or sexual orientation.”

On October 10, 2013, Governor Brown signed Assembly Bill 556. This Bill, by Assemblyman Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield, will add “military and veteran status” to that list of classes. AB 556 further provides an exemption for employers inquiring into military or veteran status for the purpose of awarding a veteran’s preference as permitted by law, such as under the VRA.

While novel in California, such laws have already been in full force for over 30-years under Federal laws. For example, while Title VII does not protect against discrimination based on military or prior military status, vets and active-duty military personnel are protected against discrimination under both the Uniform Services Employment and Re-employment Act (USERRA) and the Veterans’ Readjustment Act (VRA) of 1974.

USERRA not only protects against discrimination based on military or prior military status, it also guarantees the right of re-instatement for military personnel, under certain conditions, when Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines are called away from their jobs to perform various military duties. The VRA, on the other hand, prohibits discrimination against veterans, and requires covered federal government contractors and subcontractors to take affirmative action to employ and advance in employment certain categories of veterans, including disabled veterans, recently separated veterans, and veterans who served on active duty during war or in conflicts where a campaign badge has been authorized.

With the passage of AB 556, all employers are required to update their workplace discrimination and harassment notice, which should be posted in a conspicuous place at your workplace.