California Workplace Harassment Laws
Unfortunately, workplace harassment is something that many individuals still encounter on a routine basis. While California workplace harassment laws are getting stricter and are more frequently enforced, there is still room for improvement.
In California, workplace harassment is defined as actions by one employee towards another employee which are unwelcome and lead to that employee having difficulty doing their work or preventing them from working entirely.
Workplace harassment is illegal at the federal and state level and can be based on several factors, including religion, gender, age, ethnicity, race, and sexual orientation.
Recognizing Workplace Harassment
In order for conduct to be considered harassment under California workplace harassment laws, three factors must be present:
- There is behavior that is considered unwelcome and offensive to an employee
- An employee must voice his or her objection to the behavior to other employees or their supervisor(s)
- The behavior must actually inhibit or impede an employee from doing their duties
Employees are protected from workplace harassment under several federal laws that include the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
Knowing when a particular behavior is workplace harassment, versus simply being an offensive comment can be challenging for some employees. One-time offhand remarks that someone finds crude or offensive will likely not be considered workplace harassment.
California workplace harassment laws generally require that either the unwanted behavior be ongoing and severe enough that any reasonable person would find the environment abusive and/or hostile, or the suffering from offensive behavior becomes a job requirement.
While it would obviously be ideal if all employees acted kindly and courteously towards one another, sadly that just isn’t the reality for many people, which is why California workplace harassment laws exist.
When employees are subject to offensive and unwanted behavior from a coworker or supervisor, this can not only make employees uncomfortable, it can also be illegal.
There is a wide range of conduct that is considered offensive under California workplace harassment laws, including:
- Assaulting or threatening to assault an employee
- Routinely mocking or ridiculing an employee
- Displaying offensive pictures or objects
- Actively interfering with an employee’s work
Illegal workplace behavior is not limited to supervisors harassing subordinates. In fact, harassment may include co-workers, non-employee agents of the employer, or supervisors/employees from other departments.
Under California workplace harassment laws, individuals are generally not liable for harassment, even if they are the ones doing the harassing. In almost all cases, it is the employer that is liable under the law for workplace harassment.
When a supervisor harasses an employee, the employer will be considered liable. However, if the employer can prove they took reasonable care to prevent harassment and to promptly correct the behavior, and the victim of the harassment failed to take advantage of the company’s anti-harassment policy, the employer may potentially not be held liable.
What this really means is that it is imperative for victims of workplace harassment to report and document the offensive behavior as clearly and frequently as possible. Failing to do so may impede an employee’s ability to take legal action and have the dispute corrected.
If you believe you are the victim of workplace harassment, it’s a good idea to contact an experienced attorney familiar with California workplace harassment laws and discuss your concerns.
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