In California, a hostile work environment is considered a form of unlawful harassment under state and federal law. While such an environment is often related to sexual harassment, it may also involve harassment based on race, national origin, religion, disability, or other protected characteristics. If you have been subjected to abusive or intimidating conduct at work, turn to The Rankin Law Firm.
Our practice is dedicated to protecting the rights of workers throughout California. If you fear going to work because of the offensive conduct of a supervisor or coworker, we can help. We will take the time to understand your circumstances, collect evidence to support your claim, and explore all your options.
While taking legal action against your employer can be intimidating, you should not have to put up with a hostile work environment. We have in-depth knowledge of the applicable state and federal laws protecting employees from harassment and a proven history of achieving successful outcomes in hostile work environment claims.
When you become our client, we will always work in your best interests and fight to protect your employment rights. Please contact our office today for a consultation with an experienced employment lawyer.
What is a hostile work environment in California?
An environment that is unpleasant because of obnoxious colleagues or a rude boss is not considered “hostile.” Instead, a hostile work environment is one in which unwelcome conduct or comments by supervisors or coworkers make it difficult or impossible for you to do your job.
Ultimately, a hostile work environment claim depends on the severity and pervasiveness of the offensive conduct. While petty annoyances or offhand remarks may not constitute harassment, a single incident may be severe enough to create a hostile work environment.
In any event, to have a valid claim, the conduct or comments must:
- Be severe or pervasive enough to alter your working conditions
- Unreasonably interfere with your job performance
- Be considered offensive by a reasonable person in the same circumstances
Moreover, the harassing conduct must have been motivated by a legally protected characteristic or status. In short, creating a hostile environment is a violation of several federal laws, including:
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII)
- Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)
- The Americans with Disabilities Act
These laws protect employees against harassment based on characteristics such as age, race, sex, and more recently, sexual orientation and gender identity. Before you can file a sexual harassment lawsuit, you must pursue a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to either resolve the complaint through the conciliation process or to obtain a right to sue letter.
How California Law Protects You Against a Hostile Work Environment
Workers have stronger protections against harassment under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), which defines a hostile work environment as inappropriate, severe, or pervasive harassment that creates an offensive or abusive work environment for one or more employees.
The FEHA applies to all workplaces, protects employees, applicants, unpaid interns, volunteers, and contractors, and covers a more inclusive set of protected classes, including:
- Religious creed
- National origin
- Physical disability
- Mental disability
- Medical condition
- Genetic information
- Marital status
- Gender identity
- Gender expression
- Sexual orientation
- Military/veteran status
It is worth noting that the victim need not be the target of the offensive behavior; a third person who witnesses the conduct or overhears the comments may have a legal basis for a harassment claim. In any event, types of conduct that may create or contribute to a hostile work environment include:
- Offensive jokes
- Insults, slurs, and name-calling
- Touching, physical assaults, and threats
- Intimidation, ridicule, and mockery
- Sexually suggestive objects or pictures
- Discussion of sexual activities
- Use of sexual language
- Interference with work performance
Anyone in the workplace can contribute to a hostile environment. If the offender is a supervisor, employers can be held strictly liable under the FEHA. If a coworker creates a hostile work environment, however, employers can only be held liable if they knew or reasonably should have known about the offensive conduct and failed to take action. Before filing a lawsuit in state court, you must file a claim with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing to obtain an immediate right to sue letter.
How The Rankin Law Firm Can Help With Your Hostile Work Environment Claim
We have the skills and experience to represent you in state and federal administrative proceedings and are fully prepared to litigate when necessary. Above all, we will work to help you obtain just compensation that includes:
- Lost wages
- Lost benefits (e.g. health and pension)
- Bonus payments
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
In addition, you may also be awarded attorney’s fees and court costs. If you were fired for complaining about a hostile work environment, the court can require that your employer reinstate you. Because this may be unworkable, however, the court may decide to award front pay instead, which is designed to compensate you for loss of future income.
Finally, if your employer knew or reasonably should have known about the harassment and failed to take remedial or disciplinary action, you may be awarded punitive damages. Trust our hostile work environment lawyers to protect your rights, privacy, and your livelihood, inside and outside of the courtroom.
How can I protect myself?
While federal and state law offer victims of harassment powerful legal recourse, you must take steps to protect your rights. If you believe you have been subjected to a hostile work environment, the first step is to warn the offender his/her conduct will not be tolerated.
In addition, you should document any incidents of alleged harassment, and make a formal complaint to your employer through a supervisor or human resources. Doing so will provide you with evidence that your employer was aware of the misconduct and support your hostile work environment claim. In the end, the best way to protect your rights is to contact an experienced employment law attorney.
Contact Our Experienced California Hostile Work Environment Lawyers
At The Rankin Law Firm, we are highly experienced in handling workplace harassment claims and know how to protect your employment rights. If you believe you have been subjected to a hostile work environment, you must act quickly because there are time limits to file a claim and/or a lawsuit. The sooner you contact our office, the sooner we can get to work on your case.