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What is a Hostile Work Environment?

What is a Hostile Work Environment?If you are the victim of a hostile work environment, your employer may be in violation of both federal and California employment laws. These laws define and protect workers from illegal workplace harassment. However, it is important to understand that the type of harassment that produces a hostile work environment under the law must be based on one or more protected characteristics, i.e. age, race, religion, national origin, sex, disability, etc.

So how can you determine if your employer is legally liable for subjecting you to a hostile work environment?

The hostile work environment defined

A hostile work environment is present when an employee undergoes workplace harassment that produces an unbearable work environment due to the oppressive, offensive, and intimidating atmosphere created by the harasser. A worker may experience workplace harassment when the hostile, pervasive conduct interferes with the worker’s ability to do his or her job.

Specifically, harassment (under California law) must be defined as severe or pervasive in nature. This criterion limits the number of hostile work environment claims that meet the legal definition of harassment and discrimination in the workplace.

An employer may be subject to a workplace harassment claim when the alleged negative behaviors involve specific protected characteristics of the employee. These characteristics are defined by various laws, including:

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
  • Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) of 1967
  • Americans with Disability Act (ADA) of 1990
  • California Fair Employment Housing Act (FEHA)

California FEHA and hostile work environment

As defined under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act, hostile work environment harassment occurs when severe or pervasive inappropriate behavior in the workplace produces an abusive work environment for one or multiple employees.

The harassment within the workplace may be gender or sexual-based harassment. As well, it may also consist of non-sexual harassment, such as religious harassment, disability harassment, or harassment based on race or ethnicity.

Other important facts to understand regarding hostile work environment harassment include:

  • Hostile work environment harassment is different from workplace discrimination, although both may occur simultaneously
  • Supervisors and non-supervisors may commit hostile work environment harassment

The two major forms of harassment recognized under California employment law are:

  • Hostile work environment harassment – this essentially involves workplace bullying that reaches the level of harassment under the FEHA
  • Quid pro quo sexual harassment – this occurs when a supervisor attempts to obtain sexual favors from an employee in exchange for providing he or she an employment benefit

In practical application, behavior in the workplace rising to this level of hostility as defined under California law must occur repeatedly or pose a threat to the victim’s well-being or physical safety.

If you believe you are the victim of a hostile work environment or sexual harassment in the workplace, the Los Angeles attorneys at Taylor & Ring are here to help you obtain justice. We can fight vigorously on your behalf to recover compensation for the suffering and losses you have sustained. We provide free, initial consultations. To speak with an understanding attorney about your case, call us today at 310.776.6390 or send us a message through our contact form.




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