3 California Hostile Work Environment Examples
  • Oct 29, 2022

3 California Hostile Work Environment Examples

What Qualifies as a Hostile Work Environment in California?

Do you believe that you are a victim of a hostile work environment in California? You may be looking for examples of hostile workplaces to compare your situation to and see what your options may be.

Most Californians will experience hostility in the workplace at least once in their careers. A hostile work environment goes beyond gossipy coworkers or a hot-headed boss. While highly unprofessional and unfavorable, gossiping and constant disagreements are not considered to be legally “hostile” behaviors- unless such conduct is motivated by hate or discrimination.

In California, a hostile work environment is created when offensive or discriminatory conduct present in the workplace restricts an employee’s ability to perform their job. Racial slurs, threats, bullying, sexual harassment, physical fighting and other offensive behaviors contribute to a hostile working environment. Hostile work environments are essentially toxic spaces that routinely dole out intimidation, harassment, and discrimination.

Workplace harassment does not include disagreements or arguments between people at work, it requires an extra level of cruelty or malice to qualify. If the inappropriate conduct at work is motivated by racial or gender discrimination for instance, then the poor conduct is legally considered “hostile” and actively contributing to a hostile work environment.

The inappropriate conduct must be so pervasive that it alters the working environment and creates an abusive and hostile workplace for employees.

3 Examples of a Hostile Work Environment in California

Hostile work environments can be difficult to identify. The following are some examples of behaviors commonly observed in hostile work environment cases:

  1. Offensive language: Offensive or demeaning language is common in hostile work environments. Examples of offensive language include slurs, epithets, generalizations, stereotypes, put-downs, offensive nicknames, and teasing. Keep in mind that one stray offensive comment does not necessarily make a workplace hostile under California law. The workplace becomes hostile or abusive if this language is constant and targets protected characteristics.
  2. Indecency: Sexually explicit language can create a hostile work environment, even if it is not intended to offend anyone. Displaying sexually suggestive images, discussing sexual activities, or making sexually suggestive jokes may count as unlawful conduct in the workplace. As with offensive language, those pursuing hostile workplace claims should see if there is a pattern of indecent conduct.
  3. Unwelcome gestures or touching: Threatening gestures or touching are examples of the offensive behaviors you may find in a hostile work environment. This conduct must be unwelcomed. If the plaintiff welcomed touching or encouraged specific gestures, they cannot turn around and claim that they found this conduct unacceptable. Unlike offensive language or indecency, one instance of inappropriate touching is enough to create a hostile workplace. If someone at work punches or gropes you, then this one act may be sufficient to render your workplace abusive or oppressive.

Unfortunately, not all instances of harassment at work are prohibited under city, state, or federal employment laws. Slight annoyances and isolated incidents are not prohibited by the law, unless these incidents are deemed legally “hostile.”  Harassment at work becomes hostile when it is motivated by a protected characteristic.  Consider the following examples of hostile work environment harassment:

  1. Using sexually suggestive language
  2. Making offensive jokes about protected groups
  3. Making unwelcomed comments on an employee’s physical appearance
  4. Displaying racist or sexually inappropriate media or pictures
  5. Sabotaging an employee’s career or work

You may be wondering what the difference between “hostile work environment” and “harassment” is- they typically mean the same thing. Employment attorneys often use these terms interchangeably. Under the law, a hostile work environment case is treated as a case involving harassment and discrimination in the workplace.

Who can Create a Hostile Work Environment in California?

Several different actors can create a hostile work environment including the employer, co-workers, managers, company executives, agents, contractors, or visitors. Anyone on the premises of the company can contribute to and or create a hostile workplace. Your employer is responsible for the actions of an employee or agent in the workplace representing the employer.

Hostile workplaces can have profound effects on employees such as:

  • Decreased motivation
  • Decline in work performance
  • Decreased self-esteem
  • Physical, mental, and or emotional health problems

Keep in mind that you do not have to be the target of workplace harassment to file a claim. Colleagues, co-workers, and other witnesses to the harassment may also be considered victims in a hostile work environment case. Virtually anyone in the workspace can be impacted by hostile conduct, even those who are not the intended targets.

Victims of hostile work environments may file lawsuits against the offenders. The employer may be held liable if the offenders are managers or if the employer fails to take any action despite knowing about a hostile work environment. Some workers may feel hesitant to file claims for these reasons as they fear retaliation from their employer or someone else at work.

Luckily, retaliation for reporting harassment at work is prohibited by the law. You cannot be fired for reporting illegal activity at work, and your employer cannot force you into silence or prevent you from attaining justice.

examples of hostile work environment

How do I Prove a Hostile Work Environment?

Both federal and state laws provide protections for employees subject to hostile working environments. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination and harassment in the workplace associated with what is legally known as an employee’s protected class. Protected classes include age, religion, gender, sex, marital status, color, national origin, disability, religion and other categories.

Under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), it is illegal for workers to face discrimination or harassment at work due to any of the protected characteristics listed by the law. If you are being treated poorly at work because you are a member of a legally protected class, you may be in a hostile work environment. FEHA also prohibits employers from refusing to take any action to address workplace harassment.

To pursue a successful hostile work environment claim, the plaintiff must demonstrate the following scenarios:

  • They are a member of a protected class
  • They were subject to harassment, discrimination, or some other adverse action because of protected characteristics
  • Such behavior altered the conditions of employment and created an abusive environment
  • Any reasonable person would find the work environment abusive, hostile, or oppressive
  • The plaintiff has exhausted all available administrative remedies
  • The defendant can be held legally responsible

If you believe you may have a hostile work environment claim, you should maintain a record of all oppressive and abusive incidents you observe at work. Include the time, location, date, and whether anyone witnessed it.

If possible, have others in the workplace observe you telling the offender to stop their behavior. Report abusive behavior to the appropriate department at work so that they can try to fix it. Your employer can be held legally responsible if it has received a notice of the harassment but takes no action to stop it.

Ultimately,  workplace harassment can be difficult to identify, as it can be either direct or indirect. In some cases, severe and targeted harassment occurs without targeting a protected class. As such, your best course of action is to work with an employment attorney who can review your case and determine whether you have a valid claim.

Is it Worth Suing?

Filing a valid hostile work environment claim is worth it. You should absolutely take legal action if your employer does nothing to fix the harassment and discrimination that you or a colleague are experiencing at work.

Once you have placed an employer on notice, they are obligated to make attempts to remedy the issue. If they refuse or take no action, then your best next step is to pursue a claim with the assistance of a Los Angeles employment attorney.

The legal consequences for a person or business held liable for hostile workplace harassment can be severe. Employers may be legally obligated to reimburse victims of harassment for any of the following damages, among others:

  • Employee backpay
  • Retirement funds
  • Emotional distress
  • Punitive damages
  • Attorney fees

This list includes some of the most common damages awarded in hostile work environment claims. Punitive damages apply to cases where the offender’s conduct was particularly egregious. Depending on the details of your individual case, other damages may apply.

When a worker makes the decision to sue their employer, a coworker, or a supervisor for violating state harassment laws, they must first file a formal written complaint with California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). If you are pursuing a claim involving workplace harassment, you may be unable to go straight to court without this important step.

examples of hostile work environment cases

Deadlines to File in California

In California, workplace harassment is treated as a form of discrimination. The process for filing harassment claims with the DFEH is the same as the process for filing a discrimination complaint with the agency. If your claim is still not resolved after your complaint has been filed with the DFEH, the agency will issue you a document known as a right-to-sue letter which will allow you to introduce a lawsuit.

Keep in mind that there are strict deadlines when pursuing relief for workplace harassment claims. Employees have just one year from the date of the violation to file a complaint against their employer. Employees who have gone through the process and received right-to-sue documents have one year to file a lawsuit in civil court against their employer.

If you are concerned that your claim may be time-barred, you should speak with an employment lawyer immediately. An experienced employment attorney can review the details of your claim and make sure that your case adheres to all appropriate deadlines.

Know that when you report a hostile working environment, you might be seeking relief for several others apart from yourself without even knowing it. Workplace harassers often target more than one person with their offensive and discriminatory conduct.

Neither you nor your coworkers deserve to be subjected to continual harassment or discrimination from an offender at work. Luckily, you do not have to suffer in silence as there are legal options and remedies available.

How can a Lawyer Help me?

If you would like to file a hostile work environment claim, then you will need the assistance and counsel of an experienced employment law attorney. Your attorney can review your situation and determine whether you qualify for relief, as well as assist you in gathering all the evidence of the discrimination and harassment taking place in your work environment.

Hostile work environment cases are often based on evidence, so it is important to have someone on your side who understands this process and can ensure that your case has all the information it needs to be as strong as possible.

The right employment lawyer will maximize what you could receive in compensation. If you reside in the Los Angeles area and believe that you may have a valid hostile work environment claim or have any questions about your situation, you should contact LawLinq as soon as possible.

LawLinq can connect you with a highly reputable Los Angeles hostile work environment lawyer who will help you attain the justice and compensation that you rightfully deserve. Our member attorneys are certified by the California State Bar and are equipped with the knowledge, experience, and qualifications that you need to succeed in your hostile work environment case.

We have a large network of lawyers in the Los Angeles area across many different practice areas so that we can match you with someone specialized in cases like yours.

LawLinq makes it easy to find a Los Angeles hostile work environment attorney quickly by providing you with all the information you need to get started on your claim in one place. With LawLinq, you do not have to waste time searching online or speaking with multiple people to get the legal services you need.

Remember, our services are at no cost or obligation to you. If you reside in the Los Angeles area and suspect that you may have a hostile work environment claim, let us know today. LawLinq can serve as your link to top employment attorneys in Los Angeles.