A hostile work environment is one that is created by a supervisor or fellow employee whose demeanor or actions make it challenging or even impossible for you to do your job.
While annoyances such as talking at a high volume, chewing with an open mouth, or other rude and obnoxious co-worker behavior can be aggravating, they do not legally meet the requirement for a “hostile work environment.” However, when the behavior of a boss or co-worker alters the terms, conditions, or reasonable expectation of a comfortable work environment for employees, and when that behavior is harassing or discriminatory in nature, it constitutes a hostile work environment.
If you are experiencing unnecessary stress, anxiety, or harassment, we urge you to call our California employment lawyers now at (800) 561-4887. Our attorneys have been serving Californians for over 40 years and we may be able to help you too.
How to Take Legal Action Against an Employer or Employee
Hiring an experienced attorney as early as you can in the process can go a long way in ensuring that you get the justice and relief you need from your hostile work environment claim.
Your attorney can help you gather all types of evidence of discrimination and harassment that will help bolster your claim. In addition, your lawyer can give you legal advice during the process that will benefit your best interest. If you are being harassed or discriminated against at your place of work, please do not suffer in silence.
Most Californians have experienced hostility in the workplace at least once in their career. This conflict may originate from either a boss or a fellow employee. While conflict can instill anxiety and stress in the workplace, not all conflicts are illegal and can be settled in a confidential manner through arbitration or mediation. However, when the hostility is driven by hate, discrimination, or in retaliation of whistleblowing, it is illegal and is a violation of your rights as a worker in the state of California.
Under California law, if you are an at-will employee, your boss can terminate your employment at any time, however, they must have a justified reason for letting you. If an employer blackmails you, forces you to do something that is against your beliefs, or terminates you due to your background (race, religion, sexual orientation, gender preference, etc.) your employer will have violated the law and this may qualify you to compensation for your damages and mental anguish.
What Defines a Hostile Work Environment?
Under federal and state law, the general legal definition for a hostile work environment is one that is so poor in morale that the worker fears going to work.
Federal code and case law, according to OSHA, describe the atmosphere as being one that is “offensive, intimidating, or oppressive.” Whether the environment constituted a hostile work environment is determined by looking at the totality of the circumstances, including the frequency of the harassing conduct; the severity of the conduct; if the conduct was physically threatening or humiliating or a mere offensive utterance; and whether it unreasonably interfered with an employee’s work performance.
In order to establish a hostile work environment, the plaintiff must prove each of the following elements by a preponderance of the evidence:
- The plaintiff was subjected to slurs, insults, jokes, verbal comments, non-consensual physical contact, or intimidation of a discriminatory or harassing nature.
- The conduct was unwelcome.
- The conduct was severe or pervasive enough to alter the conditions of the plaintiff’s employment and create an oppressive, abusive, or hostile work environment.
- The plaintiff perceived the work environment to be abusive or hostile.
- A reasonable individual in the plaintiff’s circumstances would consider the working environment to be abusive or hostile.
How to Handle Harassment in the Work Environment
The first step is to properly and clearly communicate to the offender that the speech or behavior was inappropriate and that you want it to stop. If it continues, repeat your previous message and let the individual know you will be reporting the issue both to management and human resources.
At this point, you should be documenting both your conversations and comments made to you by the offender. This type of detailed information will be helpful later. It would also be well advised to get the contact information of anyone who has witnessed the harassment take place or any other victims that may have been affected.
Take the issue to your manager and to the human resources department, if your company has one. It is important that you cover your bases and make sure that everyone is in the loop. When you do take the issue to management, it would be in your best interest to keep calm and professional as getting emotional will not help make your case. Be prepared to be methodical and give specific examples of what constituted the hostile work environment.
Once this process is complete and management has talked to the offender, follow up to ensure that they did take action. You will not get a full account as that is confidential under the law. But you are entitled to know the result and if disciplinary action was taken. If the offending behavior still continues, you may have grounds for legal action. If this happens to you, our California employment lawyers can help you with the legal process of pressing charging and obtaining compensation.
Worker's Rights in California
You have the right as a worker in California to work in a safe environment and earn income. When toxic elements in the workplace create a hostile place to work, your rights are directly violated and it affects your ability to work effectively and efficiently. If the stress and anxiety that you experience in the workplace go unchecked, it may affect you and your mental health and personal health years after you leave your place of employment. We urge you not to put up with these illegal and unethical factors in the workplace and to call us now if you have been affected. The lawyers of Bisnar Chase can inform you of your legal rights at your free consultation.
Employer Accountability in California
If an employer knows that a hostile work environment has been created and yet, takes no action to correct the situation, then, the employer can be held liable for discrimination and harassment. However, under federal law, if that employer did not know about the situation, then, the employer cannot be held responsible. This is especially true if the employer had a program or procedure in place that allows employees to report harassment or discrimination.
This is why it is crucial that employees maintain careful documentation of any instance of harassment or discrimination. A journal with the dates, times, and a detailed description of the event can be very helpful. It is also imperative to keep a comprehensive record of any attempts you made to notify your supervisor, human resources, or management about the problem along with facts about whatever response you did or did not receive.
Call us toll-free today at (800) 561-4887 for more information and to set up your free, no-obligation consultation.