Legally reviewed by: Jessica Anvar Stotz, JD, MBA
Short answer: Workplace bullying occurs when an individual engages in repetitive mistreatment or harassment towards a coworker, causing them to experience fear, belittlement, or exclusion.
Workplace bullying is not illegal in California however, workplace conduct does become illegal when it involves discrimination or harassment protected characteristics, such as race, disability, religion, sex, gender identity, marital status, sexual orientation, or pregnancy.
While there is no specific anti-bullying law in California, employees have the right to take legal action if workplace bullying crosses the line into harassment or discrimination under the California Fair Employment Act (FEHA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), or Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Take this short quiz to see if you might be experiencing workplace bullying in California. Get an answer in 90 seconds or less.
Sarah, a supervisor, continuously subjects her subordinate, James, to derogatory language and insults. She frequently belittles James in front of their colleagues, using demeaning words to undermine his confidence.
Sarah’s verbal abuse creates a hostile work environment, causing James to feel anxious and demoralized. The constant barrage of hurtful remarks takes a toll on his self-esteem, job performance, and overall well-being.
The verbal abuse not only damages their professional relationship but also erodes the trust and teamwork within the team. It highlights the urgent need to address and prevent such harmful behavior in the workplace.
Emily, a colleague, repeatedly targets her coworker, Mark, through online platforms. She sends him offensive and derogatory emails, posts demeaning comments about him on social media, and even creates a fake profile to harass him.
Emily’s cyberbullying actions not only invade Mark’s personal space but also inflict emotional distress and humiliation. The constant online harassment causes Mark to feel anxious and isolated, affecting his ability to focus and perform his job effectively.
Addressing and preventing cyberbullying is crucial to fostering a safe and inclusive work environment that promotes respect and professionalism.
Lisa, a senior executive, engages in persistent and unwelcome advances towards her coworker, John. She consistently makes inappropriate comments about his appearance, sends him explicit messages, and invades his personal space.
Lisa’s harassing behavior makes John feel uncomfortable, anxious, and powerless in the workplace. The continuous harassment not only compromises John’s emotional well-being but also hinders his professional growth and productivity.
It is imperative for organizations to implement robust policies and procedures to prevent and address harassment, fostering a safe and respectful work environment for all employees.
While workplace bullying is a phenomenon that can transpire in various settings, certain factors can heighten its likelihood. One such factor is the presence of high-stress environments, commonly found in competitive industries or when tight deadlines are involved.
In these contexts, individuals may resort to bullying tactics as a means to gain an advantage or assert dominance over their colleagues. The intense pressure and heightened emotions can create a breeding ground for mistreatment.
Hierarchical structures with power imbalances in which supervisors regularly abuse their authority can also contribute to workplace bullying. When supervisors abuse their authority or exploit their position of power, it can create an environment where bullying behaviors are more prevalent. The power dynamics at play can make it difficult for victims to speak up or seek recourse, further perpetuating the issue.
Additionally, workplaces that lack effective communication channels, accountability mechanisms, or adequate policies against harassment are susceptible to fostering an environment where bullying thrives.
Poor communication can lead to misunderstandings, conflicts, and an overall toxic atmosphere. In the absence of clear policies and consequences for bullying, perpetrators may feel emboldened to engage in mistreatment without fear of repercussions.
There is no California workplace bullying law, however, employers in the state must adhere to various other labor laws to prevent workplace bullying and ensure a safe working environment for their employees.
Unlawful workplace bullying in California is characterized by negative, inappropriate, or unwanted conduct directed at an employee based on protected characteristics, such as race, disability, religion, sex, gender identity, marital status, sexual orientation, or pregnancy.
The following are instances in which you may be able to file a claim due to workplace bullying:
You might not be able to file a workplace bullying claim if any of the following pertains to your situation:
Workplace bullying can manifest in a multitude of ways, inflicting profound harm on an employee’s mental and emotional well-being. Verbal abuse, such as constant belittlement, derogatory comments, or offensive jokes, can erode an individual’s self-esteem and create a hostile work environment.
Intimidation tactics, such as threats, aggressive behavior, or coercion, can leave employees feeling fearful and powerless, impacting their ability to perform their duties effectively. Sabotage, whether through undermining someone’s work, spreading rumors, or isolating them socially, can further exacerbate the distress and isolation experienced by the victim
When workplace bullying is persistent, pervasive, and causes severe distress, anxiety, depression, or other health issues, pursuing legal action may be a viable option to protect oneself and seek justice. By taking legal recourse, individuals can hold the perpetrators and their employers accountable for the harm inflicted and the resulting consequences.
Remedies in workplace bullying cases can vary depending on the specific circumstances, but they may include financial compensation for emotional distress, punitive damages as a deterrent against future misconduct, reinstatement to a job if wrongfully terminated, or even injunctive relief to prevent further bullying and create a safer working environment.
Ultimately, deciding whether to sue for workplace bullying is a highly personal decision. It is advisable to seek legal counsel from an experienced employment attorney who can evaluate the specific circumstances and provide informed guidance.
They can help assess the strength of the case, explore alternative resolutions such as mediation or negotiation, and help navigate the complex legal process. With their assistance, individuals can make an informed choice and take appropriate action to protect their rights and well-being.
If you are seeking legal assistance for workplace bullying or any other employment-related matter in the Los Angeles area, LawLinq can provide you with valuable help.
As an attorney referral service, LawLinq specializes in connecting individuals with reputable labor attorneys who have expertise in their specific legal needs. The best part is that this service is available at no cost to you.
To get help from LawLinq, simply reach out to us with your questions or concerns. You can contact us through our website or by phone, providing us with details about your situation and the type of legal assistance you require.
Our team of knowledgeable professionals here to assist you in connecting with top labor attorneys in the Los Angeles area who can provide the guidance and representation you need. Contact us today!