What California employers need to know about caste discrimination

On Behalf of | Aug 31, 2023 | Employment Law

California employment laws recognize more protected classes than many other states do. If some lawmakers succeed in their goal, caste will be specified in state law as well.

Caste may seem like a concept from another place and time. However, some workers who were raised in specific areas of Asia and some workers of Asian ancestry who live in the U.S. know that it can follow them wherever they go – including their workplaces.

Who is most likely to engage in caste discrimination?

The issue predominantly affects those of the Dalit caste. This is considered the “lowest” caste in India and some surrounding areas. Most Americans wouldn’t know what caste a person or their family belonged to. However, those who belong to “higher” castes do – and they’re the ones most likely to engage in caste discrimination.

This is a serious problem in California because the state is home to a number of industries (especially in the science and tech world) that recruit employees from the area of the world most known for conscious caste discrimination.

How this would change California’s FEHA

Legislation that would make caste discrimination illegal passed the California Senate overwhelmingly earlier this year. If it passes in the General Assembly and is signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom, California would become the first state to safeguard workers against caste discrimination. (Seattle was the first city to do so.)

Any type of ancestry discrimination can be harmful

It should be noted that under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), ancestry is already a protected category. Like most types of discrimination, caste discrimination can hurt people’s chances of obtaining employment and moving upward. It also often involves harassment and other negative behaviors. One Dalit activist says, “There are so many people that want to heal from the trauma of caste. What’s been incredible about this moment is to see these really beautiful inter-caste and interfaith alliances, groups that have all said that they’ve been harmed by caste and want freedom from it.”

As an employer, you have a responsibility to ensure that your workplaces are free of discrimination. Keeping abreast of ever-changing California employment laws is crucial to providing all employees with a safe, welcoming environment – and avoiding costly and reputation-harming litigation in the process.


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