What Constitutes Unlawful Workplace Bullying?

Bullying in the workplace can interfere with an employee’s ability to perform the essential functions of his or her job. It could also lead to emotional distress and physical harm, such as broken bones or concussions. California has laws in place prohibiting workplace bullying. If someone breaks these laws or an employer fails to step in to rectify the situation, the injured employee will have the right to file a claim.

Protected Classes

State and federal statutes shield employees from any type of discrimination, harassment and bullying associated with a protected class. A protected class is a specific character trait that the law shields from harassment. California Government Code Section 12940 lists protected classes.

  • Age
  • Race
  • Country of origin
  • Color
  • Sex
  • Gender or gender identity/expression
  • Pregnancy
  • Sexual orientation
  • Marital status
  • Religion
  • Disabilities or medical conditions
  • Military status

Unlawful workplace bullying describes any adverse action an employee faces at work that is centered on a protected class. Belittling, antagonizing or making fun of a coworker because of his or her age is an example of unlawful bullying in the workplace. Someone guilty of workplace bullying could face criminal and civil penalties under California law. It is the bullied employee’s responsibility, however, to come forward about an abusive work environment.

Determining Whether the Work Environment Is Abusive

For a worker to have grounds to file a workplace harassment or discrimination claim against someone in California, he or she must establish an abusive work environment. Abusive work environments contain issues that are severe or persistent enough to make it impossible for the worker to perform the functions of his or her job or that make the employee feel unsafe or unwelcome at work.

In general, an isolated bullying incident will not constitute an abusive work environment unless it is especially severe. The employee generally must establish evidence of consistent workplace bullying to prove an abusive or hostile work environment and win a lawsuit.

Examples of Unlawful Workplace Bullying

It is often difficult for an employee in California to recognize bullying in the workplace as an unlawful form of harassment or discrimination. The worker may misconstrue bullying as just a tough workplace culture and not realize there are laws in California protecting him or her from bullying behaviors. In some situations, an employee simply may not recognize an action or behavior by someone at the office as unlawful workplace bullying.

  • Inappropriate or crude jokes and innuendos
  • Rude or derogatory remarks and comments
  • Verbal threats or intimidation
  • Hazing or initiation rituals at work
  • Sending unsolicited sexual images or messages
  • Posting sexual images around the workplace
  • Discrimination or unequal treatment
  • Excluding a worker from team meetings
  • Showing favoritism to other employees based on a protected trait
  • Blackmailing or extorting a worker
  • Physical harassment or assault
  • Sexual harassment
  • Quid pro quo: a demand in exchange for a job benefit

If a worker experiences any of these bullying behaviors at work, he or she should report the incident to Human Resources or a manager right away. The employee should also document the incident for his or her own records with a detailed description of what happened, who was involved and who witnessed the bullying. Then, the employee should speak to a harassment lawyer for assistance with a claim in California.

Get Help From a Los Angeles Harassment Lawyer

Unlawful workplace bullying is a type of illegal harassment in California. If bullying at work has negatively impacted you, contact a Los Angeles harassment lawyer right away. A lawyer can help you understand your right to a safe, bullying-free workplace and protect your rights by filing a civil claim on your behalf. A civil claim seeks to hold the bully and/or your employer accountable for unlawful actions against you at work. A successful claim against your employer or another party could result in reimbursement for your lost wages, medical bills, therapy expenses, legal fees and more. Learn more during a free consultation with the workplace bullying lawyers at Mathew & George today.