Updated on: 8/17/23
Legally reviewed by: Jessica Anvar Stotz, JD, MBA
Under California law, workplace harassment is defined as unwelcome conduct in the workplace, based on a protected characteristic, such as sex, race, age, disability, or sexual orientation, that is severe or pervasive enough to create a hostile or abusive work environment, or that results in an adverse employment decision, such as termination, demotion, or denial of promotion.
In order for behavior to be considered workplace harassment under California law, it must be both unwelcome and objectively offensive. This means that the behavior is offensive to a reasonable person in the same circumstances, and not simply a matter of personal preference or taste.
|Unwanted Advances||Inappropriate romantic or sexual propositions|
|Offensive Comments||Insulting, derogatory, or explicit language|
|Display of Explicit Material||Inappropriate images, videos, or objects at work|
|Cyberbullying||Harassment through emails, social media, etc.|
|Hostile Comments||Hurtful or intimidating remarks|
|Verbal Abuse||Shouting, belittling, or name-calling|
|Physical Intimidation||Threats or gestures that invoke fear|
|Invasion of Personal Space||Unwanted touching or invading personal boundaries|
|Isolation or Exclusion||Purposefully leaving someone out of activities|
|Persistent Unwanted Attention||Continuously targeting an individual for attention|
|Gender or Racial Discrimination||Harassment based on protected traits|
Examples of workplace harassment can include verbal or physical conduct, such as sexual advances, racial slurs, or physical intimidation, as well as nonverbal conduct, such as displaying offensive materials or making threatening gestures. Below is an ongoing list of examples of workplace harassment under California law.
It’s important to note that this is not an exhaustive list, and there may be other behaviors that qualify as sexual harassment under California law.
When it comes to workplace harassment, you have rights. As a certified California attorney referral service we hear questions about workplace harassment all the time. Below are a few of the most common that might help you.
You have the right to file a workplace harassment complaint with the following
The statute of limitations for filing a workplace harassment complaint with DFEH is typically one year from the date of the alleged harassment incident.
Yes, you can file a workplace harassment complaint with both DFEH and EEOC, as they have a work-sharing agreement that allows them to cross-file complaints.
Employers found liable for workplace harassment in California may face financial penalties, damages for victims, mandatory anti-harassment training, and potential legal action.
Yes, workplace harassment can occur in any work setting, including remote work arrangements, and is still subject to California’s anti-harassment laws.
LGBTQ+ employees in California are protected from workplace harassment based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression under the state’s Fair Employment and Housing Act.
To protect yourself from retaliation after reporting workplace harassment, document all incidents, keep a record of communication with your employer or HR, and consult with an employment attorney if needed.
These laws collectively aim to protect employees from workplace harassment in California. Employers are required to comply with them to ensure a safe and respectful work environment.
On June 28, 2023, the California State Assembly Committee on Labor and Employment conducted a hearing regarding Senate Bill (SB) 553. If approved as written, SB 553 would institute workplace violence prevention regulations that would apply to nearly all employers across California.
Person A and Person B work together in the same department of a company. Person A is in a managerial position, while Person B is a subordinate. Over time, Person A starts exhibiting inappropriate behavior towards Person B. This behavior includes making unwanted sexual advances, propositions, and requests for sexual favors.
For instance, during team meetings, Person A frequently comments on Person B’s physical appearance, making lewd remarks about their clothing or body. Person A also sends explicit messages to Person B on work-related communication channels, suggesting that they engage in sexual activities outside of work. Furthermore, Person A continuously insists on going out for dinner or drinks alone with Person B, making it clear that they have romantic intentions.
Person B feels extremely uncomfortable with Person A’s behavior and finds it increasingly difficult to focus on work. They experience anxiety, stress, and a loss of motivation due to the persistent harassment. Despite the discomfort, Person B initially hesitates to report the issue due to fear of retaliation or negative consequences for their career.
However, recognizing the seriousness of the situation, Person B eventually decides to document the incidents, including dates, times, and details of each inappropriate encounter. They then report the harassment to the human resources department, providing the evidence they have collected. The company launches an investigation into the matter to ensure a fair and thorough assessment.
Upon investigation, it is determined that Person A’s behavior indeed violated the company’s policies on harassment and created an intimidating, hostile, and offensive work environment for Person B. As a result, disciplinary actions are taken against Person A, which may include reprimands, mandatory training, suspension, or even termination, depending on the severity of the offense and the company’s policies.
In this example, Person A’s persistent and unwelcome sexual advances, propositions, and requests for sexual favors created an environment of harassment for Person B, which ultimately led to their decision to report the behavior and seek resolution through appropriate channels. It’s important to remember that workplace harassment is a serious issue, and everyone has the right to a safe and respectful work environment.
Person A and Person B are colleagues working in the same department of a company. Person A holds a higher position, while Person B is an employee. Over time, Person A starts engaging in racial harassment towards Person B.
Person A frequently makes derogatory comments about Person B’s race, using racial slurs or offensive stereotypes. They mock Person B’s cultural practices and belittle their achievements based on racial biases. Person A also consistently assigns Person B menial tasks or undesirable assignments, solely based on their race, while giving preferential treatment to other colleagues.
Additionally, Person A deliberately excludes Person B from team meetings, social events, or important discussions, simply because of their race. They undermine Person B’s contributions, dismiss their ideas, and often interrupt or talk over them during conversations. This consistent pattern of racial harassment has a severe impact on Person B’s confidence, emotional well-being, and job satisfaction.
Person B, feeling distressed and marginalized, decides to address the issue and seek resolution. They start documenting the instances of racial harassment, noting down dates, times, and specific details of each incident. Person B then brings this matter to the attention of their supervisor or the human resources department, providing the documented evidence.
Upon receiving the complaint, the company initiates an investigation into the racial harassment allegations. They conduct interviews with both Person A and Person B, as well as any potential witnesses. The company takes this matter seriously and ensures confidentiality and a fair assessment of the situation.
Following the investigation, it is determined that Person A’s behavior violated the company’s policies on racial harassment. The company takes appropriate disciplinary actions, which may include counseling, mandatory sensitivity training, suspension, or even termination, depending on the severity of the offense and the company’s policies.
In this example, Person A’s racially discriminatory behavior created an environment with workplace harassment for Person B, negatively impacting their well-being and job satisfaction. It emphasizes the importance of addressing racial harassment in the workplace and taking necessary actions to ensure a respectful and inclusive environment for all employees.
Person A and Person B work together in a professional setting. Person A is a supervisor, while Person B is an employee. Over time, Person A starts engaging in harassment towards Person B based on their LGBTQ identity.
Person A frequently makes derogatory comments about Person B’s sexual orientation, using slurs, stereotypes, or offensive jokes. They openly express homophobic views, mock LGBTQ individuals, or question the validity of their relationships. Person A may also spread rumors or gossip about Person B’s personal life, specifically targeting their LGBTQ identity.
In addition to verbal harassment, Person A may intentionally exclude Person B from professional opportunities or social events based on their sexual orientation. They may assign them menial tasks, deny them access to important information, or undermine their contributions solely because of their LGBTQ identity. This persistent pattern of discrimination and harassment deeply affects Person B’s well-being, job satisfaction, and professional growth.
Feeling distressed and marginalized, Person B decides to address the issue and seek resolution. They start documenting instances of harassment, recording dates, times, and specific details of each incident. Person B then reports the harassment to their supervisor, the human resources department, or follows the appropriate reporting procedures within the organization.
The company responds to the complaint by launching an investigation into the allegations of harassment. They conduct interviews with Person A, Person B, and any potential witnesses, ensuring a fair and thorough assessment of the situation. The company upholds a commitment to maintaining a safe and inclusive work environment.
Upon completion of the investigation, it is determined that Person A’s behavior violated the company’s policies against discrimination based on sexual orientation. The company takes appropriate disciplinary actions, which may include counseling, mandatory diversity and inclusion training, suspension, or even termination, depending on the severity of the offense and the company’s policies.
In this example, Person A’s harassment based on Person B’s LGBTQ sexual orientation created a hostile work environment, negatively impacting their well-being and professional growth. It highlights the significance of combating LGBTQ discrimination in the workplace and ensuring equal treatment and respect for all employees, regardless of their sexual orientation.
If you believe that you have been subjected to workplace harassment, it’s important to take action promptly. Here are some steps you can take:
It’s important to note that there are strict time limits for filing a workplace harassment claim in California. The deadline for filing a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing is generally one year from the date of the alleged harassment. However, it’s recommended that you take action as soon as possible to preserve your legal rights and protect yourself from further harm.
Below is a bulleted list explaining how victims can file a formal workplace harassment complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
It’s essential to follow the appropriate complaint procedures with the relevant agency to ensure that your workplace harassment complaint is properly addressed and investigated.
Both DFEH and EEOC are committed to upholding fair employment practices and protecting employees’ rights in California.
If you have questions about any part of the filing process, get in touch with one of our workplace harassment attorneys ASAP. They can help with your filing process so you can hold wrongdoers accountable and recover any money you are entitled to.
California law requires employers to prevent and correct harassment based on protected characteristics, distribute anti-harassment policies and pamphlets, train supervisors, investigate complaints, and take remedial action.
Employers are liable for harassment by supervisors or third parties if they knew or should have known about it. Below are a few responsibilities they have,
Possible employer liabilities when it comes to California workplace harassment include:
It is crucial for employers in California to take proactive measures to prevent workplace harassment, promptly address any complaints, and ensure a safe and respectful working environment for all employees.
By doing so, they can reduce the risk of liability and create a positive workplace culture.
A lawyer can help you understand your legal rights and options for pursuing a claim, and can provide guidance on how to document the harassment, negotiate with your employer, and file a complaint with the appropriate agency. They can also represent you in court or in settlement negotiations.
It’s important to note that there are strict time limits for filing a workplace harassment claim in California, so it’s recommended that you take action as soon as possible to preserve your legal rights and protect yourself from further harm.
LawLinq has connections with some of the best sexual harassment attorneys in the state of California. If you’d like to get connected with a top rated lawyer in your area for free, please give us a call. We’ve done our homework so you don’t have to.