How Safety on the Job Is Regulated
Before the enactment of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) in 1970, the regulation of workplace safety fell largely to states and localities, but the new Act began establishing regulations and standards that must be followed universally nationwide. Accordingly, the federal Occupational Safety Health Administration (OSHA) was established to assure adherence to the new standards.
The OSH Act governs not only specific safety issues — mandating training, recordkeeping, and administrative standards – but its “general duty clause” states that each employer "shall furnish . . . a place of employment which is free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees."
The OSH Act also allows states to operate their own safety and health plans so long as they are at least as strict as federal standards, and California does so through its agency known as Cal/OSHA. Again, our state tends to be both more aggressive and progressive than many other states, so compliance here can be more challenging.
Equal Employment and Anti-Discrimination Measures in the Workplace
The Civil Rights Act of 1964, in its section called Title VII, prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. Subsequent national legislation has extended anti-discrimination protections based on age, pregnancy, genetic history, and more. Court decisions have further extended protections to the LGBQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and questioning) community, as well as to sexual orientation and gender identity.
Discrimination based on these protected classes can take various forms, including rejection of a job applicant, declining promotions to existing employees — or worse, demoting them — but equally objectionable and illegal is harassment. Harassment can also assume many forms, including slurs, exclusion of individuals from groups, offensive jokes, and more.
The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is charged with investigating complaints of discrimination and seeking redress where indicated. States also have enacted anti-discrimination and harassment laws and set up regulatory agencies. In California, the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) is responsible for enforcing state laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or employee because of a protected characteristic.
Retaliation and Wrongful Termination
Discrimination can also take the form of workplace retaliation and wrongful termination. For example, if an employee reports a safety violation to Cal/OSHA, or cites an instance of sexual harassment to the EEOC, and is suddenly demoted or taken off the track for advancement. Or worse, that employee is terminated, but the reasons given — if any — are only a cover-up for retaliation. Any of these actions can become a claim or lawsuit in the making.