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Hostile Work Environment

Many calls that we get involve employees dealing with a hostile work environment. California law defines a hostile work environment as inappropriate behavior inside of the workplace that is severe or pervasive enough to create an abusive work atmosphere. It is important to remember that for a case to be be valid, a hostile work environment must be based upon a protected trait (sex, race, age, religion, disability, etc.) and also has to be pervasive or severe.

The claim of a hostile work environment is driven by the California Fair Employment and Housing Act ("FEHA"). Essentially, a hostile work environment is a form of workplace harassment. In order to prove that harassment created a hostile work environment, an employee has to show the following:
  1. They were an employee, person providing services under a contract, an unpaid intern, or a volunteer of the Defendant;
  2. They were subjected to harassing conduct due to a protected status;
  3. That the harassing conduct was severe and pervasive;
  4. That a reasonable person in the same circumstances would have considered the work environment to be abusive, hostile, oppressive or offensive;
  5. That a supervisor engaged in the conduct or that the defendant knew of the conduct and failed to take action;
  6. That the employee was harmed; and
  7. That the hostile conduct was a substantial factor in causing the harm.
What is does "protected status" mean?

"Protected status" basically means that an employee falls into a certain class of individuals defined in the FEHA. The following are defined by California Government Code 12940 (the FEHA) as protected classes:
  • race
  • religious creed
  • color
  • national origin
  • ancestory
  • physical disability
  • mental disability
  • medical condition
  • genetic information
  • martial status
  • sex
  • gender
  • gender identity
  • gender expression
  • age
  • sexual orientation
  • military or veteran status
Do I have a case if I have only been subjected to a few incidents in the workplace?

The law requires the harassment to be severe and pervasive. This means that the harassment was not something occasional or isolated. It must be severe and ongoing to be actionable. When someone is treated poorly by an employer daily due to their protected class, the harassment would be severe or pervasive. A comment made one day that was inappropriate is not enough to be actionable, although it should be reported to management.

I'm being yelled at and bullied at work. What can I do about it?

Many people are surprised to learn that a hostile work environment does not include being yelled at by a boss or being treated poorly. The difference is that the reason the person is being treated poorly is because of their protected status. A boss who has a terrible temper and yells at everyone or is not enough for a claim to go forward. Even bullying cannot be enough to make out a claim unless someone can tie in their protected status as the reason for the bullying. 

Who can be held responsible?

The FEHA allows for a claim to be made against anyone in the workplace. This includes other employees as well as independent contractors, clients, and even customers. However, it is difficult to hold an employer responsible for any of these actions unless the employer knew, or should have known, about the hostile actions that were occurring. If the actions were by a supervisor or manager, then the employer can be held liable. 

How to get help with my case

For more information, or to speak to a San Diego Hostile Work Environment Lawyer about your case, call us at (619) 377-4660. We offer free consultations on all employment matters and will take the time to work through every aspect of a case in order to determine whether we can help. All cases are handled on a contingency fee basis, which means there is no fee unless your case is won or settled in court. 
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