HARASSMENT AND HOSTILE WORK ENVIRONMENT

UNLAWFUL HARASSMENT

California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) prohibits workplace harassment by employers, supervisors and coworkers.  Employees classified as an “independent contractor” by the company can also sue for harassment under the statute.  The law requires that employers take reasonable steps to prevent and correct any harassment in the workplace.  Failure to do so may create a hostile work environment for the employees, no matter who was the intended victim of the unwanted comments or actions.  Employers are required to have clear, easy to understand employment policies setting forth guidelines for complaints and fair and impartial investigations.  These requirements apply to companies in San Diego and throughout California.  If you’ve been the victim negative comments, mistreatment or abuse, you may have a legal claim for your hardship.

PROTECTED CHARACTERISTICS

Mistreatment based on a protected characteristic is unlawful under the Fair Employment and Housing Act.  California law protects employees who

  • Race, skin color, ethnic ancestry or national origin
  • Religious affiliation, beliefs and creed
  • Age (over 40)
  • Mental or physical disability
  • Pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding or related medical conditions
  • Sex or gender
  • Sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression
  • Medical condition
  • Genetic information
  • Marital status
  • Military and veteran status

Individuals are similarly protected from discrimination and wrongful termination based upon any of these characteristics.  California’s pay equity laws provide protections based on gender and race for differences in pay.

HARASSMENT TAKES MANY DIFFERENT FORMS

Unlawful harassment occurs when a person treats another person in a negative, inappropriate or unwanted manner based on one or more protected characteristics.  It takes many forms and may be subtle or direct and it may occur once or over several years.  Courts look at the severity and frequency of the harassing conduct when determining liability and damages.  California case law defines harassment to include a wide range of inappropriate actions:

  • Inappropriate or derogatory comments, jokes or slurs
  • Distasteful drawings, notes, cartoons or images
  • Sexual or racial inuendo
  • Use of pornography in the workplace
  • Requests for sexual favors or unwanted sexual advances
  • Physical assault, unwanted touching, blocking normal movement
  • Verbal or implied threats
  • Bullying

These actions, when based on a protected characteristic (such as race, religion, sex, national origin, disability or age, among others), are illegal if they interfere with a person’s work activities or otherwise result in a workplace that is intimidating, hostile or offensive.  When these actions are prevalent in the workplace, an individual, even one who wasn’t directly involved, may bring a hostile work environment claim against the employer.

QUID PRO QUO HARASSMENT

Sexual harassment, in particular, is also found in quid pro quo situations, where a coworker demands sexual advances in order to stay in good graces at work or to receive a promotion or raise.  Employees who are subjected to quid pro quo behavior of a sexual nature, or mistreatment based on any other protected characteristic may receive compensation as part of a settlement or judgment.

RECOVERABLE DAMAGES

Victims of harassment or a hostile work environment are given the right to obtain damages for their losses if the underlying claim is successful.  Damages may be monetary or non-monetary in nature:

  • Back pay (for lost earnings)
  • Front pay (for future lost earnings)
  • Lost bonuses and commissions
  • Lost benefits (dental, medical, vision, etc.)
  • Lost pensions and retirement earnings
  • Hiring and reinstatement
  • Out-of-pocket expenses
  • Medical expenses
  • Policy changes
  • Emotional distress damages
  • Punitive damages
  • Attorney’s fees and costs
  • Interest
  • Injunctive relief

FERRARO EMPLOYMENT LAW IS HERE TO HELP

Strict timelines apply to bar late claims for harassment.  It is important to understand your rights and to determine whether you have an actionable harassment claim under California law.  Contact us today for a free case assessment with a lawyer who specializes in harassment and hostile work environment claims in San Diego courts.