HR Management & Compliance

DFEH Reports Rise in Employee Complaints

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) recently issued its 2008 Annual Report, noting a 15 percent increase in employee complaints over the previous year.

The DFEH is the state agency responsible for enforcing California law prohibiting employment discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. Before an employee can file a lawsuit, he or she must first file a complaint with the DFEH, which either investigates and prosecutes the compliant itself, or authorizes the employee to proceed with a private attorney. As a result, the DFEH is in a unique position to closely track the kinds of complaints employees are making.

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During 2008, the agency received 18,785 employee complaints. The lion’s share of the complaints were for disability discrimination (6,844) and retaliation (5,697). Sexual harassment (3,863), race bias (4,208) and age discrimination (3,655) complaints all also comprised significant portions of the total claims filed.

The substantial rise in complaints during 2008 can, in part, be attributed to the DFEH’s new online appointment setting feature and pilot telephone intake program. The pilot telephone intake program, if made permanent, will allow all California employees to consult agency officers and formally file complaints without physically going into a DFEH office.

The agency also reported increased enforcement efforts that resulted in $9.5 million in settlement funds paid to employees. Of particular importance for employers is the difference in the average amounts paid in pre-accusation, versus post-accusation, settlements. An “accusation” is a formal DFEH charge against an employer, and follows the agency’s investigation of an employee’s complaint. The average pre-accusation complaint settled for $8,000, while post-accusation settlements averaged $40,000.

Can You Fire Your Employees Without Getting Sued?

As downsizing, layoffs, and restructuring continue to be the new norm at many companies throughout California, claims of retaliation are on the rise. Even if your terminations were 100 percent lawful, it’s easy for downsized employees to ask, “Why me?”
Companies that successfully defend themselves against retaliation lawsuits brought under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act usually have one thing in common—they have adequately documented that the termination was both fair and done for legitimate reasons. Companies that fail to do this often find themselves paying out substantial damages, even if the underlying claim is found to have no merit.

Order the CD recording from our in-depth audio conference that took place on June 15. The audio conference recording—specifically for California employers—will help you minimize the risk of retaliation and bias claims when you’re forced to let workers go.

You’ll learn:

  • Practical strategies to reduce your risk of retaliation and bias claims at work
  • What to do if you have legitimate reasons for terminating an employee who’s lodged a complaint recently
  • Why proper documentation is key to beating claims of retaliation
  • The policies you need in place to ensure you’re fully protected
  • What to do right away when an initial claim comes to light
  • How to communicate unavoidable layoffs in a way that reduces your risk of future claims

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