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Is an Employer Liable for Harassment by Coworkers?

Being harassed at one's job by coworkers can be extremely traumatic. Under California's Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), employees may be able to sue their employers for workplace harassment even if it was not committed by a supervisor. As an employee in California, you have the right under FEHA to be free from any form of harassment, irrespective of whether the harasser is a supervisor, co-worker or other people who are not even employees such as clients or independent contractors.

There are a number of factors that could potentially affect the employer's liability in a harassment case including who the harasser is, the type of harassment that is happening and the relationship in the workplace between the harasser and the victim. It is important to understand that workplace harassment does not just involve supervisors harassing people working under them. The harasser may be a co-worker and the harassment could happen in person or online.

If you have been the victim of harassing conduct in the workplace and have questions, our Los Angeles workplace harassment lawyers have answers.

Who is Liable When You Are Harassed at Work?

When an employee is unlawfully harassed in the workplace, the person doing the harassing is personally liable for their illicit conduct. In addition, the employer may be liable for the harasser's conduct. 

Liability of Individual Harasser

California's Labor Code Section 12940 (j)(1) states that an individual who harasses an employee is personally liable for his or her conduct. When an individual harasses another employee, he or she is personally liable for his or her conduct. The victim can recover monetary damages from the harasser for such unlawful conduct.

If you are wondering if you are being sexually harassed at work and need help, please don't hesitate to call or email us by simply filling out the contact form on this page.

Employer's Strict Liability

Under California law, employers are strictly liable for a harasser's conduct when the harasser is a supervisor. What this means that if it is established that a supervisor harassed an employee, the worker can recover damages from the employer for the harassment.

The employer can also be held liable for harassment by non-supervisory employees or non-employees over whom it has control. Examples of such individuals are independent contractors or clients on the premises. Employers have a responsibility to take prompt and appropriate corrective action when such harassment is reported by employees.

Who is a "Supervisor" Under California Law?

Under California laws, a supervisor includes any person who while using independent judgment has the authority to "hire, transfer, suspend, lay off, recall, promote, discharge, assign, reward, or discipline other employees." Supervisors also have the responsibility to direct other employees and to address their grievances in the workplace.

Harassment by Co-Workers Who Are Not Supervisors

You may still sue your employer under FEHA if you have experienced harassment by a co-worker who is not a supervisor. However, employer liability in such cases depends on whether or not the employer was negligent. This means that the employer knew or should have known that the harassment was taking place. It also means that the employer failed to take immediate and appropriate corrective action to put an end to the harassing behavior. 

These types of cases will hinge on whether the employer took the necessary steps to prevent or put an end to the harassment and how an employer responded to complaints that the harassment was happening. Employers are liable for a harassment lawsuit by co-workers only if it can be proven that they were negligent in handling the situation.

We have some additional information you can read here to learn what situations are not considered workplace sexual harassment.

Harassment by a Customer or Client

Things can become awkward and complicated in the workplace when an employee is harassed by a person who is a customer or client. Typically, an employer might try to defuse the situation by placating the client, particularly if it's a client who is important or even critical for business.

As an employee, you have the right to sue their employers for harassment by a client or a customer. An employer is liable for harassment by third parties just as they are for harassing behavior on the part of co-workers. Employers are liable if they knew or should have known about such harassment. In such cases, the word "negligence" means the employer knew about the harassment, but did not take the necessary steps to rectify the issue and stop the harassment. Employers have a duty to protect their employees.

When to Contact an Experienced Harassment Lawyer

If you have been harassed at work, please do not suffer in silence or try to handle the situation on your own. It would be in your best interest to learn your rights under California law and contact our experienced Los Angeles harassment attorneys at Kingsley Szamet & Ly. We have helped uphold employee rights for nearly 40 years.

Using an employment attorney can help your case several ways. We have the knowledge, experience, and resources to fight for victims of all types of harassment and win. Let us guide you though the legal process. We also offer a no-win-no-fee guarantee, which means we don't charge fees unless we win for you. Call us to find out how we can help you today.

We Hold Employers Accountable - Get Help Now

You do not have to go through this alone. Contact our Los Angeles Employment law firm for a free case evaluation. We represent our clients on a contingency fee basis, which means that you do not pay any fees unless you win or recover compensation, and you will never have to pay out-of-pocket. California-only. We are unable to help those outside of California. Call (818) 990-8300