A BRIEF SUMMARY OF WHAT CONSTITUTES WORKPLACE HARASSMENT
In California, illegal workplace harassment (also called “Hostile Work Environment”) occurs when an individual directs negative, inappropriate, or unwelcome behavior towards an employee based on specific protected traits. These can encompass factors such as the employee’s race, age, national origin, disability, religion, sex, gender identity, marital status, sexual orientation, or pregnancy, among others.
Also, for such harassment to be considered unlawful, it must be severe or frequent (or both severe and frequent). A few mildly offensive or bothersome comments typically do not meet this threshold.
Unlawful workplace harassment can manifest in various ways, including:
- Making inappropriate jokes, derogatory comments, or innuendos.
- Engaging in physical harassment, like unwanted touching or hitting.
- Saying or implying verbal threats.
- Presenting offensive visuals (such as posters or signs).
- Persistently or aggressively making requests for sexual favors.
- Displaying favoritism based on a protected trait.
Illegal workplace harassment can be motivated by a range of negative traits, prejudices, or personal gratification. However, it’s important to note that many behaviors in the workplace that may seem wrong might not necessarily amount to unlawful harassment. Therefore, it’s crucial for both employers and employees to understand the extent of California’s legal safeguards against workplace harassment.
SOURCES OF CALIFORNIA WORKPLACE HARASSMENT LAW
- The Fair Employment and Housing Act (referred to as “FEHA”) is a California state law that addresses numerous forms of discrimination and harassment experienced by employees, unpaid interns, job applicants, and certain independent contractors.
- The California Constitution prohibits employment discrimination based on sex, race, creed, color, nationality, or ethnic origin. While not the primary avenue for lodging harassment claims, as most fall under Title VII or FEHA, it remains a protection.
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a federal statute that bars discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. While Title VII doesn’t explicitly address harassment, courts interpret “discrimination” to encompass unlawful harassment.
- The Americans with Disabilities Act specifically shields individuals with physical and mental disabilities from unjust discrimination and harassment stemming from their disability.
- The Age Discrimination Act guards against discrimination and harassment related to age for employees aged 40 and above.
Each law affords distinct protections for employees. In nearly all instances, the provisions of FEHA are the most favorable to employee rights, often on par with Title VII. For instance, Title VII imposes strict limits on the damages employees can seek in harassment lawsuits, whereas FEHA does not. Likewise, FEHA’s anti-harassment provisions apply to all private, state, and local employers. In contrast, Title VII only covers employers with 15 or more employees.
Fortunately, California mandates that employers adhere to the law that offers the highest level of protection to employees. Consequently, employees can opt to seek recourse under one or more of the laws that afford them the greatest benefit. Most employees opt to pursue their case under FEHA due to its usual provision of robust protection for employee rights.
Workplace harassment cases are highly fact specific. Therefore, you should always consult a lawyer who specializes in plaintiff-side employment law when you suspect that you are a victim of workplace harassment.
JUSTICE FOR WORKERS, P.C. is a plaintiff-side law firm that specializes in employment law and workers’ compensation (work injuries). Call us at (323) 922-2000 for a consultation. Consultation is FREE. And if we take your case, you do NOT have to pay us anything until we recover compensation for you.