California Hostile Work Environment Laws
Your workplace should be a physically, mentally, and emotionally safe place to do your job. A hostile work environment may reduce your ability to do your job well and lead to mental distress and even physical illness. The state of California has enacted laws to protect workers from hostile work environments in addition to federal protections. If you believe you are facing a hostile work environment, there is help available to you.
Who is Protected Under California Law?
For a hostile work environment to exist, you must face hostile conditions based on belonging to one of the classes of people protected under federal or California law. Federal law protects employees from discrimination based on race, color, age, national origin, religion, disability, sex, citizen status, or genetic information. California law goes further and adds protection for marital status, sexual orientation, political affiliation, gender identity, AIDS/HIV, veteran status, or victims of domestic violence.
Federal law applies to businesses with 15 or more employees (with some exceptions, citizenship status, for example, applies to businesses with 4 or more employees). California law protects workers in businesses with 5 or more employees.
What is Considered a Hostile Work Environment?
A hostile work environment is created when an employee is subjected to unwelcome conduct that creates a workplace that is hostile, offensive, or intimidating to a reasonable person, based on that employee belonging to one of those protected classes.
The conduct must be severe or pervasive in order to create a hostile work environment. If the conduct is severe enough, even a single instance may be enough to create a hostile work environment. However, even relatively minor behavior that continues for a period of time may create a pervasive enough problem that it creates a hostile work environment. Hostile work environment is a common cause of a sexual harassment claim.
What to Do if You Work in a Hostile Work Environment
One of the first steps you can take is to follow the procedures outlined by your company in the employee handbook. This gives your employer the opportunity to address the problem and take the appropriate action.
You may also file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on their website for complaints protected by federal law. You can file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. These organizations exist to protect employees from discrimination and from having to continue to endure a hostile work environment. By speaking up, you protect not only your own rights, but help protect others from facing the same hostility you have faced.
In most cases, it is a good idea to contact a harassment attorney for a free consultation. While it is illegal for a company to retaliate against employees who report a hostile work environment, you may face difficulties after bringing the problem to the attention of your employer. An attorney can advise you on how to protect your rights as you go through this process. An attorney can also help you fill out complaint forms, ensure that they are filed before the deadline passes, and give you valuable advice on how to proceed.
Contact a California Employment Law Attorney
Even if you do not feel that your discrimination was based on your belonging to a protected class, you may not have all the information needed to determine that. In many cases, others who have faced similar hostility fail to speak up about the problem. It could be that a pattern of hostility based on your class will emerge after you begin the process of seeking to correct the problem.
You have the right to have a workplace free of hostility and the right to speak up and take action when faced with a hostile workplace. At Mathew & George, our Los Angeles discrimination lawyers are here to help employees. Contact us today, and we can help you determine your rights under the law.