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Am I protected from discrimination as an independent contractor?

Many times, it can seem as though the only difference between an independent contractor and an employee is who is responsible for deducting your taxes. Yet there are many other factors that differentiate contractors and employees under California law, and one major point is the protections offered to employees against discrimination, harassment, unfair wages and hours, wrongful termination and retaliation. As an independent contractor, are you afforded those same protections?

The answer to that is contradictory, and may require legal determination on a case-by-case basis. The California Department of Fair and Equal Housing states that yes, as an independent contractor you are protected from harassment or discrimination based on your age, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, gender identity, pregnancy and any number of other factors. The DFEH invites you to file a formal complaint as a contractor if you feel you have been a victim of harassment of discrimination.

The California Department of Industrial Relations, however, directly states that independent contractors are not protected by anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation laws, or laws regarding work and hours - and states that independent contractors cannot seek out a state agency to enforce the law regarding those protections. In all likelihood the California Fair Employment and Housing Act and all implementing regulations likely take precedence over this, but it is best to be aware of both declarations when pursuing a claim regarding unfair treatment.

This post has been for informational purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for legal counsel or misconstrued as actionable legal advice.

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