Sexual harassment in private businesses, government agencies, and labor organizations are prohibited by California and federal laws. Each incident of sexual harassment is different, and there are two main categories into which most cases fall — “quid pro quo” cases and “hostile work environment” cases.
If a supervisor portrays unwanted sexual behavior towards an employee, they may have committed “hostile work environment” sexual harassment. Although similar to “quid pro quo” sexual harassment, where a direct supervisor seeks sexual favors in return for something within the supervisor's powers, hostile work environment sexual harassment is slightly distinct.
Non-Sexual Hostile Work Environment
Non-Sexual hostile work environment harassment occurs when unwelcome comments or conduct based on sex, race or other legally protected characteristics unreasonably interferes with an employee's work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment. The victim can be anyone affected by the conduct, not just the individual at whom the offensive conduct is directed towards.
Some examples include:
- Expressing negative stereotypes regarding an employee's birthplace or ancestry
- Using racially derogatory words, phrases, epithets
- Comments about an individual's skin color or other racial/ethnic characteristics
- Using gestures, pictures or drawings which would offend a particular racial or ethnic group
- Making disparaging remarks about an individual's gender that are not sexual in nature
- Making negative comments about an employee's religious beliefs (or lack of religious beliefs)
What is needed to show a hostile work environment?
There is no universal standard as to what constitutes a hostile environment.. The standard of finding the employer liable is very high and the plaintiff must show that the employer was actually aware of the behavior, or should have been aware of it under reasonable circumstances.
The critical question in hostile work environment cases is the severity and pervasiveness of the unwelcome sexual conduct. To determine whether the behavior is sufficiently severe or pervasive, the court will look at:
- The severity of the actions
- The frequency of the actions
- The timing or context of the conduct to determine whether the behavior is sufficiently severe or pervasive
Moreover, a claim of harassment generally requires several elements, including:
- The complaining party must be a member of a statutorily protected class;
- The complaining party must have been subjected to unwelcome verbal or physical conduct related to his or her membership in that protected class;
- The unwelcome conduct complained of must have been based on his or her membership in that protected class;
- The unwelcome conduct affected a term or condition of employment and/or had the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with his or her work performance and/or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.
What should you do if you work in a hostile work environment?
You should first consult your employer's sexual harassment and racial discrimination policies, if you feel you are subject to workplace harassment or discrimination due to a hostile work environment. This usually means working through your supervisor or human resources department to take the appropriate actions.
Proving sexual harassment can be challenging, but with the right legal team, it can be done. Take the first step to protecting yourself and stopping this hurtful and illegal behavior. Take advantage of a free initial consultation to discuss your specific case by calling the toll free number (888) 500-8469 or clicking here to contact us regarding your case.