California and federal laws protect workers from certain kinds of workplace discrimination on the basis of sex or gender. For example, an employer is probably breaking the law when it hires women only for low-level positions and reserves all management positions for male job applicants. However, there are many cases where it’s difficult to determine whether the discrimination occurred, or if it rose to the level of unlawful discrimination.

Some particularly difficult cases involve allegations of discrimination in networking events outside of the workplace. If only male co-workers go out to a happy hour at a local bar after work, their shared social interaction may give the members of their “boys club” an advantage in the workplace.

It can be hard to distinguish between a so-called boys club and an actual case of employment discrimination based on gender. This is because, generally speaking, people are free to do what they wish and associate with their co-workers as they wish, on their own time.

In other words, if a group of boys, or girls for that matter, wants to get together after hours for drinks, golf, or the like, then they are free to do so. If a group of men is getting together outside of work, even with supervisors, it doesn’t mean that a woman who might not want to participate in those activities or is not invited is being discriminated against in the legal sense of the word.

However, even if unofficial networking is not discrimination per se, it can be when it is coupled with other factors. For instance, if the company is so entwined with the off-the-clock gatherings that it can be said that it is sponsoring them, then it could be discrimination. Moreover, these sorts of groups could be evidence of a hostile work environment in some instances. If a particular job opportunity is only available to those who are in the after-hours social club, then there may be a case for discrimination.

While not all instances of a so-called boys club can be resolved through legal channels, if a California worker feels it is a source of discrimination, they should learn more about worker protection laws. A lawyer with experience in employment law can help workers to understand their rights and legal options.