Bill to Protect Workers with Disabilities From Discrimination Passes Assembly Labor Committee

A bill by California State Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) to protect disabled workers from on the job discrimination was approved on a unanimous, bipartisan vote by the Assembly Committee on Labor and Employment Wednesday.

AB 488 would eliminate an exemption for employees of sheltered workshops and rehabilitation centers with special minimum wage licenses under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), extending the law’s protections against discrimination and harassment to workers in those environments. Currently those employees do not have the same basic protections as everyone else from discrimination based on characteristics like race, religion, sex, gender expression, sexual orientation, national origin, ancestry, marital status, or age. Similarly, these workers lack the protection provided by FEHA against sexual harassment.

“This bill guarantees these employees the same civil rights that all other workers, including interns, already receive,” Gonzalez said. “There’s no reason these workers should receive less protection from discrimination or harassment on the job.”

Sheltered workshops and rehabilitation centers provide specialized employment and job training for individuals with disabilities, often for less than minimum wage.

In the past, sheltered workshops and rehabilitation centers have been considered by some to be temporary training environments rather than true employment, but real-world experience has demonstrated that these are employees who often stay in their positions for many years. In 2014, AB 1443 extended FEHA’s protections to cover unpaid interns and volunteers, establishing that these workplace protections are appropriate even for those making less than minimum wage or in a program for a limited time to gain experience.

AB 488 was approved by the committee on a 5-0 vote, with Assemblymembers Roger Hernández (D-West Covina), Evan Low (D-Campbell), Kevin McCarty (D-San Diego), Tony Thurmond (D-Richmond) and Matthew Harper (R-Orange County) voting in support. It is supported by Disability Rights California, the State Council on Developmental Disabilities and the California Labor Federation. The bill will next be considered by the full Assembly.