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Automobile Lemon Law

Workplace Harassment

Employee Rights

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My employer has been harassing me. I’m working in a hostile work environment. What are my rights?

Under California law, employees have a right to be free from harassment in the work place. This protection applies whether the harassment is committed by their employer, a supervisor or another employee. Harassment can be of the quid pro quo variety where a supervisor makes certain employment benefits contingent upon sexual favors, or harassment can be when an employee is forced to work in a hostile work environment due to offensive behavior of another based on a protected characteristic (gender, race, sexual orientation, etc.).

Some common examples of behavior that may be considered as harassment include:

  • Offensive jokes

  • Name calling

  • Slurs

  • Physical assaults or threats

  • Ridicule and insults

  • Offensive jokes

  • Inappropriate or unwanted touching

  • Derogatory comments and statements

These are just some forms harassment can take. But each case is different and harassment must be assessed on a specific case by case basis.

For the quid pro quo variety of sexual harassment, a single occurrence may be enough to bring a claim. For example: if a supervisor threatens to fire you if you don’t perform certain sexual favors; or if a supervisor offers you a particular benefit if you provide a sexual favor.

However, if harassment is in the form a hostile work environment, whether it is based on sex or another characteristic, a single incident or one off occurrence is generally not considered harassment. For example: If a coworker tells you an offensive joke, that would not be harassment in the legal sense. The offensive behavior must be frequent and severe such that a hostile environment is created. But again, how frequent and how offensive and harsh it has to be, must be looked at on a case by case situation. So if you feel you are the victim of harassment in the work place, contact us immediately and we can explain your rights.

Importantly, the source of harassment does not matter. It can be from your employer or a supervisor. If it is either of them, your employer will be liable. But harassment can also be from the conduct of other employees who are not your superiors.

In California, employers have a duty to create a harassment free workplace. This means employers are generally required to prevent harassment that they could have foreseen, and immediately take action to correct known harassment. For example: if you tell your supervisor or HR about another employee harassing you, and they don’t address it or fail to act, your employer may be guilty of harassment. Why? Because employers will be liable if they knew or should have know of harassing conduct and failed to take immediate corrective action.

Another distinction between harassment and other types of work claims, is that harassment does not require the employee to be harmed or damaged. For example, if an employee claims they were wrongfully terminated based on a discriminatory purpose, the employee needs to have damages to be able to bring forth a claim. This could be in the from of emotional distress or lost wages because of the firing. But harassment does not require the employee to prove harm. The harassment is a violation in and of itself. And harassment claims can even be brought against small employers who employ less than five employees as well.


If you think you’re a victim of work place harassment, contact us immediately for a free case evaluation today.


How do I file a claim for work place harassment?

Under the law, if you are the victim of harassment by your employer, there are certain steps that you must take in order to file your claim. You cannot simply file a lawsuit against your employer. You must first exhaust your administrative remedies. One important step in this process is that you must file a charge in writing with California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). You only have one year from the date of the harassment to do this. If you miss this deadline, you are out of luck, except for some rare exceptions. The DFEH may investigate the matter. But this often does not have beneficial results for the employee and can take a long time. So when you file your charge with the DFEH you can simultaneously request that the DFEH issue you a “right to sue” letter. This letter then authorizes you to file a lawsuit against your employer. But caution that you only have one year then from the date of the letter to file your lawsuit.

The whole process can be very confusing to handle on your own and the deadlines are important to meet. This is why it is critical that you contact an experienced attorney. If you haves suffered from harassment or work in a hostile environment, contact us immediately to understand your rights.   

Thank you for submitting your inquiry. A firm member will contact you to follow up shortly after we review your information to see if we can assist you. If you do not receive a response within 48 hours, please call our firm to ensure your message was received. 

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