Holding Employers Accountable for Their Actions
It is illegal to discriminate or harass a person in the workplace on the basis of gender or sex. California and federal laws prohibit this behavior in private businesses, government agencies, and labor organizations. Each incident of sexual harassment is different, however, there are two main categories into which most cases fall - "quid pro quo" cases and "hostile work environment" cases.
If a supervisor acts in a way that exposes a worker to unwanted sexual behavior, 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.
If you have experienced a hostile work environment and are seeking legal action, call our Hostile Work Lawyers at (818) 990-8300 today. Our Los Angeles Employment Attorneys offer free, no-obligation consultations.
What Constitutes a Hostile Work Environment?
If you have to tolerate unwelcome comments or conduct that is based on your sex, race, or other legally protected characteristics, and it unreasonably interferes with your work performance or it creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment, then you can take legal action against your employer.
It's important to note that anyone in your workplace can create a hostile work environment, including managers, co-workers, contractors, vendors, customers, or guests. Victims of hostile work environment can include anyone affected by the conduct, not just the individual the offensive conduct is directed toward.
How Do I Know If I'm in a Hostile Work Environment?
You may not always know if you are in a hostile work environment. While we may all experience frustrations in the workplace and annoyances, not all experiences may be termed as a "hostile work environment." However, there are also situations where you may not be able to identify when you are in such a hostile workplace. Here are some of the basic criteria to determine if you are in a hostile work environment:
Work disruption: A hostile environment is not just irritating or distracting, but it is often one that negatively affects your mental health. You may be traumatized by the frequent harassment or discriminatory practices in your workplace. In some cases, you may actually be afraid to come in to the office. If this is your workplace experience, it is not normal. You may be able to seek legal remedies in these types of situations.
Severe and persistent harassment: Is the harassment you are experiencing consistent and severe? Have there been instances where you have feared for your physical and/or mental well being because of the frequency and severity with which the harassment occurs? If so, you are in a hostile work environment.
Lack of action: Employers are required under the law to provide a safe and healthy work environment for their employees. If your employer knew about discrimination, harassment or abuse occurring in the workplace, but did not take any steps to end such behavior, that amounts to a violation of your rights.
Common Reasons for Harassment and Hostile Work Environment
Harassment is one of the most pervasive forms of discrimination in the workplace. Discrimination in the workplace is prohibited both by California and federal laws, which establish "protected" groups that are shielded from discriminatory behavior. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits workplace discrimination as does the California Fair Housing and Employment Act.
Workplace harassment can take many forms and it is crucial to seek the counsel of an experienced Los Angeles hostile work environment lawyer to determine whether you have a claim. Some of the protected characteristics or categories include race, religion, sex, age, sexual orientation, nationality, and disabilities. If you are being ridiculed or harassed at work because of your sexual orientation or age to such a degree that you are unable to properly perform your job duties, you are being subjected to a hostile work environment.
Have You Been Fired After Filing a Hostile Work Environment Lawsuit?
Labor laws protect employees who file discrimination charges or oppose practices in the workplace that are illegal. All employees have rights under the law protecting them from retaliatory action in the workplace. You cannot be fired just because you filed a hostile work environment lawsuit. That amounts to retaliation and is grounds for a wrongful termination lawsuit.
Retaliation can also manifest in adverse workplace actions such as demotion, pay cut, an unfavorable job review, passing employees up for promotions, etc. Our wrongful termination lawyers can advise you how employment laws in California protect your rights after filing a hostile work environment claim.
Can Sexual Harassment Create a Hostile Work Environment?
Incidents of sexual harassment in Los Angeles that can arise to the level of hostile work environment must sufficiently offend, humiliate, or distress the worker in the workplace. If you are unsure if you have experienced sexual harassment there are some signs that may help.
Common examples of sexual harassment that can be considered part of a hostile work environment include:
- Making offensive remarks about how a person looks, the clothes they wear, or other aspects of their physical appearance
- Using sexual innuendos or comments
- Asking intrusive questions about a person's sex life
- Making sexually suggestive gestures or sounds
- Telling sexual or lewd jokes to coworkers
- Hanging sexual or offensive posters in the workplace
- Directing lewd or sexual gestures towards another person
- Sending sexually suggestive letters, notes, emails, or images to others in the workplace
- Displaying pornography or other sexually explicit content in the workplace
- Deliberately exposing one's private parts
Non-Sexual Hostile Work Environment Claims
The following are examples of hostile environment harassment that are non-sexual in nature:
- People in the workplace say negative stereotypes about an employee's race, ethnicity, nationality, ancestry, or religion
- People in the workplace commonly use racial slurs, phrases, and epithets
- People in the workplace comment on a person's skin color or other characteristics associated with race
- Making gestures, displaying pictures, or creating drawings that offend a particular racial or ethnic group
- Making disparaging or derogatory comments about a person's gender or gender identity that are not sexual in nature
- Making disparaging comments about a person's religious beliefs
How Do I Prove There is a Hostile Work Environment?
There is no universal standard as to what constitutes a hostile environment, and cases with very similar situations have been decided differently. Furthermore, the standard of finding the employer liable is very high.
The plaintiff must show that the employer was actually aware of the behavior or should have been aware of it under reasonable circumstances. It is not enough to show that sexually suggestive behavior occurred. The plaintiff must show that the employer could have taken reasonable steps to stop the behavior.
For example, the employer may not be held liable for such behavior if it occurred outside the workplace. However, if the comments are made by a supervisor to a subordinate outside the workplace and they carry a negative impact over into the workplace, the subordinate may make a claim for harassment, based on a hostile work environment. The critical question in hostile work environment cases is the severity and pervasiveness of 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 if the behavior is sufficiently severe or pervasive
Moreover, a claim of harassment also requires the following elements:
- The party making the complaint belongs to a statutorily protected class
- The party making the complaint has been subjected to unwelcome verbal or physical conduct related to the protected class they belong to
- The unwelcome conduct is based on the person's membership in the protected class
- The unwelcome conduct the person endured affected a term or condition of employment, it unreasonably interfered with their work performance, and/or it created an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment
What Can I Do if I Work in a Hostile Work Environment?
If you feel you are subject to workplace harassment or discrimination due to a hostile work environment, then you should first consult your employer's sexual harassment and racial discrimination policies. This usually means working through your supervisor or human resources department to take the appropriate actions.
And most importantly, speak with an experienced California employment lawyer who can review your case and evaluate your options free of charge. 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 by contacting an experienced sexual harassment attorney near you.