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Hostile Work Environment Laws in California: What You Need to Know

Do you think you may be a victim of a hostile work environment? If so, your employer could be violating federal and California employment laws for subjecting you to illegal workplace harassment. But taking legal action on these harassing behaviors can get a little tricky. This is because workers who claim hostile working conditions may not know that this type of harassment is illegal only if it is based on a protected characteristic (race, age, national origin, sex, religion, disability and so on) of the employee. In a hostile work environment, harassment must also meet a certain level of severity, that is, it must be either "severe" or "pervasive." This means that only a small number of workplace hostility claims actually satisfy the legal definition of workplace discrimination and harassment. So how do you know when your employer is truly violating the law?

Do you think you may be a victim of a hostile work environment? If so, your employer could be violating federal and California employment laws for subjecting you to illegal workplace harassment. But taking legal action on these harassing behaviors can get a little tricky. This is because workers who claim hostile working conditions may not know that this type of harassment is illegal only if it is based on a protected characteristic (race, age, national origin, sex, religion, disability and so on) of the employee. In a hostile work environment, harassment must also meet a certain level of severity, that is, it must be either "severe" or "pervasive." This means that only a small number of workplace hostility claims actually satisfy the legal definition of workplace discrimination and harassment. So how do you know when your employer is truly violating the law?

This article will help you understand what an unlawful hostile work environment can look like, and when you may wish to seek legal help from an employment attorney.

What Constitutes a Hostile Work Environment?

A hostile work environment occurs when an employee experiences harassment in the workplace which creates an intolerable work environment because of the offensive, intimidating or oppressive atmosphere the harasser creates. The pervasive conduct is also considered hostile when it interferes with a worker's ability to perform his or her job. At times, hostile working conditions can result in a workplace harassment claim against an employer if the negative behaviors are based on a protected characteristic of the employee as defined under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), or a variety of other laws that make various types of complaints and activities legally protected.

Hostile Work Environment Examples

If you're being subjected to any of the following unlawful employer behaviors due to your membership of a protected class (age, race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, religion, national origin, pregnancy, etc.), you should think about contacting an employment attorney for expert guidance.

  • Your employer or coworker exhibits verbal anger or aggression toward you (for example yelling);
  • Your employer or coworker exhibits non-verbal aggression toward you (for example: slamming things onto your desk in an aggressive manner);
  • Your employer or coworker communicates with you using offensive jokes or racial slurs;
  • Your employer or coworker belittles you based on your ideas, personal circumstances, work or opinions;
  • Your employer or coworker tampers with your personal belongings;
  • Your employer or coworker stalks, spies on, or pesters you;
  • Your employer or coworker threatens you with unwarranted punishment, termination, physical, emotional, or psychological abuse;
  • Your employer uses unfair tactics to block your progression, growth, or advancement within the organization

If you are facing any of the aforementioned hostile behaviors and they become pervasive enough, continue over time, consistently disrupt the ability for you to perform your essential job duties, or interfere with your career progress, then your employer may be violating federal and California employment laws.

Hostile Work Environment Cases in Los Angeles

To better understand when a hostile work environment is considered unlawful, real case examples can help shed some light on the subject.

In a recent case, two former Gibson Dunn billing specialists alleged a hostile work environment for older workers in the company's billing department. The age discrimination and harassment suit claims that they were pushed out of their jobs in order for the company to hire younger, less-expensive replacements. One of the former employees claimed that the harassment by her supervisors got so bad that she suffered a work-related acute anxiety attack from the "disparaging and demeaning" treatment she received from managers. She also claims that the work-related medical condition led her to go on disability leave.

Another notable hostile work environment lawsuit is the recent case in which a jury found Bikram Yoga guru, Bikram Choudhury, guilty of sexual harassment. The plaintiff, a former attorney for Choudhury, claimed she suffered "severe and pervasive" harassment at Choudhury's Los Angeles headquarters, which created a hostile work environment that her employers knew about, yet failed to correct. The former Bikram employee received $237,000 in past lost wages, $187,500 for future lost earnings, $50,000 for mental suffering and emotional distress and $450,000 in noneconomic damages, including future suffering and emotional distress.

Everyone deserves to work in an environment free from hostility. If you feel you are being subjected to unlawful hostile working conditions, contact our Los Angeles hostile work environment attorneys for a free consultation today.

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