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What is a Hostile Work Environment?

On Behalf of | Apr 14, 2021 | Employment Law

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) prohibits harassment or inappropriate behavior that is severe enough to create an abusive work environment. Harassment may be sexual or based on race, ethnicity, religious beliefs, or age. A hostile work environment arises when firm action is not taken to prevent bullying and harassment.

Types of Harassment that Constitute a Hostile Work Environment

Unlawful harassment in the workplace takes many forms. Some teasing, inappropriate humor or minor harassment is common in many workplaces. A hostile workplace is one where the harassment is frequent, severe or both. Types of harassment may include:

  • Physical harassment—unwanted touch of any kind is physical harassment. You are protected from such harassment under FEHA.
  • Verbal threats, whether stated or implied, are unacceptable.
  • Inappropriate jokes, innuendos, or derogatory comments about you or directed to you are harassment.
  • Requests or insinuations about sexual favors are not something you should be subjected to in the workplace.

Some workplace behaviors may seem wrong but are not elevated to unlawful harassment. It can be challenging to determine what behaviors cross the line to unlawful harassment as there is no specific legal definition of severe or pervasive conduct. Each case is treated differently, and an employment attorney will try to establish a pattern of behavior.

What Can I Do if I am Experiencing a Hostile Work Environment?

If you are experiencing bullying or harassment at work, you should bring the matter to the HR department’s attention. If the situation is not adequately resolved in a timely manner, it may be time to consult an employment attorney. No one should have to work in an environment that poses a risk to their physical or mental well-being. Licata & Yeremenko, A Professional Law Corporation help clients experiencing a hostile work environment in Southern California.

An Employer’s Responsibility to Prevent Harassment

An employer is violating the law if harassment that could have been prevented is allowed to occur. An employee will have to show that the employer knew about the harassment or should have known about the harassment and that the employer failed to take timely action to correct the problem.

California law requires all employers to develop written policies regarding preventing discrimination, harassment, and retaliation and making those policies available to all employees. The policy must contain specific requirements, including:

  • All protected categories covered under FEHA
  • The policy must establish that the law prohibits all employees from engaging in practices that FEHA makes unlawful.
  • The policy must establish a complaint process for individuals experiencing harassment.
  • The policy instructs supervisors to report misconduct complaints to a designated person so that the employer can attempt to resolve the issue internally.
  • It must outline how allegations of misconduct will be investigated and dealt with
  • Employees cannot suffer retaliation as a result of making a complaint or participating in an investigation.

Know your rights as an employee under California law. You do not have to accept harassment, bullying, or abuse as part of your job. If you have been forced to work in a hostile work environment, contact a California employment attorney for more information about your rights and potential compensation. You can reach out to Licata & Yeremenko, A Professional Law Corporation on our website for a free consultation by clicking here or calling us at 818-783-5757.