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Workplace Harassment Laws in California: Common Questions

Are you suffering from a hostile work environment at work? If so, your employer could be violating both federal and California workplace harassment laws. In California, harassment based upon a protected category in the workplace is unlawful under a slew of federal laws, as well as the California Fair Employment and Housing Act. While California’s anti-harassment laws are also among the most favorable towards employees in the entire nation, you may still have specific questions about harassment and bullying in the workplace.

This article will answer common questions about workplace harassment laws in California to help you understand when it’s appropriate to contact a workplace harassment lawyer.

Are you suffering from a hostile work environment at work? If so, your employer could be violating both federal and California workplace harassment laws. In California, harassment based upon a protected category in the workplace is unlawful under a slew of federal laws, as well as the California Fair Employment and Housing Act. While California’s anti-harassment laws are also among the most favorable towards employees in the entire nation, you may still have specific questions about harassment and bullying in the workplace.

This article will answer common questions about workplace harassment laws in California to help you understand when it’s appropriate to contact a workplace harassment lawyer.

Workplace Harassment in California: Your Questions, Answered

What constitutes harassment in the workplace?

Workplace harassment is defined as a form employment discrimination that violates 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), and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).

Harassment in the workplace constitutes unwelcome conduct from an employer or coworkers based on an employee’s race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), marital status, family status, sexual orientation, disability/medical condition, or genetic information.

Is it illegal to harass someone?

While minor annoyances and isolated, trivial harassment incidents in the workplace may not be illegal, conduct that creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment can be unlawful under both federal and California law.

Illegal harassment can come from supervisors, coworkers, an agent of the employer, or even a non-employee. Offensive conduct in the workplace can include things like offensive jokes, slurs, epithets, name calling, physical threats or assault, intimidation, ridicule, interference with work performance and more. The victim can also be anyone affected by the offensive workplace conduct – not just the employee who is being harassed. Illegal harassment doesn’t necessarily have to lead to termination of the victim, either.

What is the difference between bullying and harassment?

While workplace harassment can be unlawful if it is based upon certain protected characteristics under both state and federal law, workplace bullying itself is not necessarily illegal unless the bully creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment due to a victim’s protected characteristics as laid out above.

There are some key differences between bullying and harassment in the workplace, including the reason for the offensive behavior. Someone who engages in workplace harassment targets an employee or group of employees based on their membership in a protected class (i.e. gender, race, or ethnicity). If someone is a bully at work, they may not care who or what the person is. In addition to that, in cases of harassment, victims can complain to an outside agency. However, victims of bullying are typically turned to their workplace human resources department for help.

What is the California Fair Employment and Housing Act?

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) protects victims of harassment in the workplace due to race, color, religion, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, ancestry, mental and physical disability, medical condition, age, pregnancy, denial of medical and family care leave, or pregnancy disability leave (Government Code sections 12940,12945, 12945.2).

What are some examples of workplace harassment?

While there are many forms of workplace harassment, there are two primary types: quid pro quo and hostile work environment.

Quid pro quo harassment typically refers to a requested exchange taking place between the victim and an employer, supervisor, manager or coworker. Harassment of this type is often sexual in nature, where sexual acts are requested in exchange for promotions, keeping a job, and other forms of compensation.

A hostile work environment can mean verbal, physical or mental abuse in the workplace from an employer, manager, supervisor, or coworker. The behavior becomes unlawful when you are unable to perform your job or the harassment stays consistent, defining a hostile working condition. Inappropriate behaviors can include offensive jokes, racial slurs, gender-related insults, verbal attacks against your sexual preference, ageist comments, verbal threats, offensive statements about disabilities, and more.

Do you have other questions about California workplace harassment laws? Let us know in the comments.

Workplace Harassment in California: Additional Information

  • California Law Prohibits Workplace Discrimination and Harassment via the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing
  • Workplace Bullying Laws in California: Know Your Rights
  • True Stories of Workplace Bullying: Case Examples
  • Workplace Harassment via the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

If you feel you’ve been subjected to unlawful workplace harassment in California, contact the workplace harassment lawyers at Hennig Ruiz so we can help you build your case today.

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