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Hostile work environments - abuse and harassment: holding the company responsible under California employment law

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California employment law protects you if you work in a hostile work environment. It is important that you understand your legal rights.

 
You might have heard, knowledge is power. That is certainly true if you're evaluating and considering your legal rights. If you work in (or worked in) an abusive workplace or harassing workplace, it is important that you understand what you can do about it under California law. You may be entitled to substantial money compensation.
 
In this article we explain California law and we provide you with “legal citations.”  That is, the legal authority for California workplace laws. We want you to not only know your rights, but we want you to be able to take action in order for you to understand how you may be entitled to money compensation for the harm caused to you by the company.
 

"An insider's view of California employment law.  No lawyer talk, no double talk. Just good old fashioned, unsweetened truth.” 
California's leading employment lawyer - Bill Turley 
 
Bill Turley testifying in the California senate regarding California wage laws
 
Bill's No B.S. straight-up style is why Bill is frequently asked to testify before the California State Senate and California Assembly
and it's why Bill is asked to help draft California Labor law


Can I hold the company responsible for their abusive, harassment and hostile work environment?

Yes! There is a lot to be said about holding the company legally responsible for the harm they have caused you.  There is a therapeutic effect of knowing that the company has to pay for their abusive behavior and/or allowing the workplace that they control to be  hostile and abusive toward you and/or others.
 
At the end of the day, that is what the law allows. Compensation for the harm that has been done to you. And your satisfaction that you are helping to prevent this abuse and hostility from occurring to others in the future. What the company has done to you and/or others is wrong.  The power in the law can bring justice. Whether you are illegally terminated or work under adverse employment actions - - California law allows you to hold the company accountable for that they have done to you. 
 
 

In this article, California labor and employment attorney Bill Turley  discusses some of the most frequently asked questions he hears about California harassment law:

 
What is workplace harassment in California?
 
What is a hostile work environment in California?
 
Can I sue for workplace bullying under California law?
 
What is a hostile work environment harassment - that is directed at you?
 
What is a hostile work environment - illegal conduct directed at others?
 
Can I bring a hostile work environment case in California based upon ridicule and insult?
 
What is the reasonable person standard under the FEHA? (Objective and subjective standards)
 
Can an employer be liable if my harasser is a non-supervisory employee?
 
What will I need to prove in order to win a hostile work environment case when the conduct was directed at others?
 
Can I recover money damages if I win my hostile work environment lawsuit?
 
Can my hostile work environment lawsuit help prevent others from being harassed, abused and having to work in a hostile work environment?

     
What is workplace harassment in California?

Under California law, there are three different types of workplace harassment.
 
First, a hostile work environment where the illegal conduct is directed toward you.
 
Second, is a hostile work environment where the illegal conduct is directed towards others.
 
Third, is a “quid pro quo” harassment. With this type of harassment a supervisor asks, suggests and/or pressures an employee to engage in a sexual act in order to receive some type of benefit - such as a promotion or raise, or a threat to fire them if they don’t do it.
 

What is a hostile work environment under California law?

 
There are two different kinds of hostile work environment under California employment law.
 
The first type of hostile work environment is called “hostile work environment harassment - directed at the Plaintiff.”  Meaning, the hostilities, harassment and/or abuse is directed toward you, the person bringing the claim.
 
The second type of hostile work environment is called “hostile work environment harassment - directed at others.”  Meaning, the hostilities, harassment and/or abuse is directed toward one of your co-workers or someone else and you witnessed the harassing behavior.
 
Both of these two different types of hostile work environments are actionable under California law. This is another way of saying that you can bring a lawsuit under California law under both types of “hostile work environment harassment.
 
A hostile work environment doesn’t need to involve sexual harassment. Under California employment law a hostile work environment can be based on a number of things, such as race, age, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, for example.
 
Let’s take a closer look at each of these type of hostile work environments.
 

Hostile work environment harassment - directed at you      


Under California law, you can bring a claim when your employer causes or allows a hostile or abusive work environment.
I order to establish a claim you will need to prove the following:
 
 1.  That you were an employee of the Defendant. (Or an unpaid intern or volunteer); 
 
 2.  That you were subject to unwanted harassing conduct because you were (a woman, gay, a certain religion, race, etc.);
 
 3.  That the harassing conduct was severe or pervasive;

 4.  That a reasonable person in your circumstances would have considered the work environment to be hostile or abusive;
 
 5.  The you considered the considered the work environment to be hostile or abusive;
 
 6.  That either a supervisor engaged in the conduct or the supervisors knew or should have known of the conduct and failed to take immediate and and appropriate corrective action;
 
 7.  That you were harmed; and
 
 8.  That the conduct was a substantial factor in causing your harm.
 

Questions?

 
If you have any questions, please feel free to call us at 619-304-1000 or fill out the contact form on this web page.
 

Can I sue for workplace bullying under California law?

Yes, under California law, workplace bullying can create an abusive work environment that supports a hostile work environment harassment lawsuit.
 
Workplace bullying is repeated, mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators. It is abusive conduct that is threatening, humiliating and intimidating. Illegal workplace bullying is a set of acts of commission (abusers doing things to others) or omission (abusers withholding resources from others).

When hostilities in the workplace are directed toward you in the form of bullying, you may have a viable lawsuit under California law.
 
It is very, very stressful to be the subject of workplace bullying. You may be entitled to significant compensation for having to work in this abusive and hostile environment.
 

Can I bring a hostile work environment case in California based upon ridicule and insult?

Yes. Under California employment law: “When the workplace is permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule and insult that is ‘sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment and create an abusive working environment,’ the law is violated.” Kelly-Zurian v. Wohl Shoe Co., Inc. (1994) 22 Cal.App.4th 397, 409.

Happy clients with their settlement checks from a California Unpaid Wages case.
Clients that are happy they got their check in a California Wage Case

 


Hostile work environment - illegal conduct directed at others


Under California law, you can sue to a hostile work environment even if the harassment is directed toward others.
 
California law recognizes that your work environment is affected not only by conduct directed at you but also by your employer’s treatment of others. For example, a woman’s perception that her work environment is hostile to women will obviously be reinforced if she witnesses the harassment of other female workers.” Beyda v. City of Los Angeles (1998) 65 Cal.App.4th 511, 519.
 
Under the law, harassment against others in the workplace is only relevant to you if you have personal knowledge of it. The courts have ruled that unless you witness the conduct against others, or you’re otherwise aware of it, that conduct cannot alter the conditions of your employment and create an abusive working environment.
 
Stated another way, a reasonable person in plaintiff’s position would not find the environment hostile or abusive unless that person had knowledge of the
objectionable conduct toward others.” Beyda v. City of Los Angeles (1998) 65 Cal.App.4th 511, 520.
 

What is the reasonable person standard under the FEHA? (Objective and subjective standards)

To prevail in your FEHA case, you must first be able to show that the workplace was objectively offensive. Meaning,  one that a reasonable person would find hostile or abusive.
 
Stated differently, you won’t prevail under the FEHA if a reasonable person in your position, considering all the circumstances, would not share the same perception that your workplace was abusive or hostile. 
 
Second, you must also show that it was subjectively offensive. Meaning, that you perceived it to be offensive. Meaning, a plaintiff who does not perceive the workplace as hostile or abusive will not prevail, even if it objectively is so. Lyle v. Warner Brothers Television Productions, 38 Cal. 4th 264, 284.

Can an employer be liable if my harasser is a non-supervisory employee?

Yes.
 
Under California law,  “When the harasser is a non-supervisory employee, employer liability turns on a showing of negligence. That is, the employer knew or should have known of the harassment and failed to take appropriate corrective action.” Rehmani v.Superior Court (2012) 204 Cal.App.4th 945, 952.


What will I need to prove in order to win a hostile work environment case when the conduct was directed at others?

Under California employment law, in order to prevail in your hostile work environment case where the harassing conduct is directed at others (for example, you co-workers) you will have to prove the following:
 
1.  That you are a member of a protected status. For example, sex, gender, race, national origin, age, etc;
 
2.  That you are an employee, unpaid intern and/or volunteer with a company; 
 
3.  That you, although not personally subjected to unwanted harassing conduct, personally witnessed harassing conduct that took place in your immediate work environment;
 
4.  That the harassing conduct was severe or pervasive;
 
5.  That a reasonable in your protected group (for example a woman) in your circumstances would have considered the work environment to be hostile or abusive;
 
6.  That you considered the work environment to be hostile or abusive toward [e.g., women];
 
7.  That a supervisor engaged in the conduct; or
 
8.  Your employer’s supervisor’s or agents knew or should have known of the conduct and failed to take immediate and appropriate corrective action;
 
9.  That you were  harmed; and
 
10.  That the conduct was a substantial factor in causing your harm.
CACI 2521b

Can I recover money damages if I win my hostile work environment lawsuit?

 
Yes absolutely. If you prevail your hostile work environment lawsuit, California law allows you to recover for your emotional distress, past wage loss, future wage loss and other money damages.
 

Can my hostile work environment lawsuit help prevent others from being harassed, abused and having to work in a hostile work environment?

 
Yes.

Not only can you be compensated with money for the abuse you suffered, your hostile work environment lawsuit can help prevent others from being abused in the workplace and help prevent others from having to work in hostile work environments. Based upon our experience, helping others not have to face the abuse, harassment and hostilities that you have had to face is a huge motivating factor for many folks that want to hold the company accountable.
 

What are you going to do about it?

 
The fact of the matter is that hostile workplaces are all too common in California. From small companies, to mid-sized companies to the largest companies in California. You may have worked in one of these companies. The question you may now face is whether you are going to take the first step to hold them accountable? 
 
When you are forced to work in a hostile work environment you probably are incurring emotional distress. Not to mention the threat or real loss of wages.
 
California law protects you. But only if you take action.

Call us at 619-304-1000  - If you call after regular business hours, when you leave a message, be sure to repeat your name and telephone number twice, so we get it correctly. And be sure to indicate whether it's okay if we respond by text.

Text us at 858-281-8008 - Be sure and put "new wage case" in your text.

Or leave us a message on this webpage


What I can say....

 
But what I can say is that if you don't take some action (like contacting the best, honest employment lawyer that you can find); then you may very well be allowing the company to get away with violating your legal rights. Even if it isn't us - I strongly suggest that you pick up the phone or reach out to a good California employment lawyer.  With most lawyers there is no obligation to talk to them initially to see if you may have a valid case and be entitled to money damages. Just do something.
 
 

This article is not legal advice. Every case is different. Just because we have gotten great results in so many employment law cases, doesn't guarantee any particular result in  your case or any other case. 
William Turley
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“When I seek out professional advice, I don’t want B.S., I want it straight up. I figure you do also.”
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