Employees who suffer work related injuries may file a claim with the California Division of Workers’ Compensation. Workers' compensation benefits are designed to provide an employee with the medical treatment she needs to recover from her work related injury or illness, partially replace the wages she loses while she is recovering, and help her return to work. Workers’ compensation benefits do not include damages for pain and suffering or punitive damages.
Faced with a civil suit for sexual harassment, employers often contend that the worker’s compensation system provides the only remedy available to the victim. This is known as the Exclusivity Rule. However, sexual harassment lawyers counter that the exclusivity rule does not bar a suit for emotional distress damages resulting from sexual harassment because sexual harassment, by exceeding the normal risks of the employment relationship, falls outside of the worker’s compensation system. They argue that harassment cannot be considered a normal part of the employment relationship and so the sexual harassment victim’s remedy is not confined to workers’ compensation. As long as the sexual harassment claim remains in court, the related emotional distress claims of the employee are not barred by the workers’ compensation exclusivity. Similarly, discrimination on the basis of race, religion, age or gender is not a normal incident of employment, and therefore workers' compensation is not the exclusive remedy for an injury from such discriminatory conduct. Also, the workers' compensation law does not preclude a common law action for unfair firing in violation of a fundamental public policy.
Not only is sexual harassment illegal. The law also prohibits:
- Racial harassment
- Religious harassment
- Age-based harassment
- Harassment based on disability
- Harassment based on ethnicity or national origin