California is set to become the first state to explicitly ban caste discrimination. Senate Bill 403 (“SB 403”), which was passed last Tuesday, September 5, would integrate “caste” into the definition of “ancestry” as a characteristic protected from discrimination by California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act and Fair Employment Housing Act. If signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom before October 14, 2023, the law will go into effect on January 1, 2024.
SB 403: “Ancestry” and “Caste”
SB 403 defines “ancestry” and “caste” to mean the following:
- “Ancestry”: lineal descent, heritage, parentage, caste, or any inherited social status.
- “Caste”: an individual’s perceived position in a system of social stratification on the basis of inherited status. “A system of social stratification on the basis of inherited status” may be characterized by factors that may include, but are not limited to, inability or restricted ability to alter inherited status; socially enforced restrictions on marriage, private and public segregation, and discrimination; and social exclusion on the basis of perceived status.
These terms are broadly defined, contain non-exhaustive lists, and include perceptions of discrimination, so employers should be careful and diligent to ensure this discrimination is not present or perceived in the workplace. Some opponents objected to SB 403, arguing that the term “caste” would unfairly single out certain ethnic and racial groups that have historically been subject to caste systems.
Compliance for California Employers
If SB 403 is signed into law, California employers will be required to prevent and remedy ancestry and caste discrimination. It would prevent employers from taking adverse employment actions on the basis of caste. The following are steps employers can take to ensure compliance with the new law:
- Update employee handbooks and policies to include characteristics captured by the ancestry and caste definitions.
- Train human resources staff, managers, and employees on understanding ancestry and caste in the workplace.
- If laying off California employees, avoid doing so in any manner that could be considered discriminatory on the basis of caste.
Out-of-state employers who employ California residents should also be aware of the new law and ensure compliance to avoid complaints of discrimination, retaliation and/or harassment based on caste.
MNK Law will continue to monitor developments with respect to SB 403. For more information on discrimination against protected classes in California, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This material is provided for informational purposes only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor does it create a client-lawyer relationship between MNK Law and any recipient. Recipients should consult with counsel before taking any actions based on the information contained within this material.