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Harassment and Hostile Work Environment


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A Closer Look at Harassment and Hostile Work Environment in California

Working in an environment plagued by aggravation or hostile behavior from your colleagues or employer can be extremely difficult. If an employer maintains a hostile or abusive work environment, your rights as a California employee may be violated and it’s imperative to identify the situation and work on a solution. 

If you feel are being harassed or experience hostility at work, reach out to an employment attorney at Kohanchi Law for a free consultation.

What is a Hostile Work Environment?

In a hostile work environment, the behavior of an individual or a group of people within a workplace can make work difficult or uncomfortable for other colleagues or employees. This can lead to employees feeling intimidated, uncomfortable, or unwelcome.

It is important to identify a hostile work environment based on all surrounding circumstances, the frequency of such behavior, and the detrimental effects of such attitude on the employee’s work performance.

What are Some Examples of a Hostile Work Environment?

  • A coworker who repeatedly makes sexual comments to another employee
  • Offensive images or comments shared in or outside the office
  • A coworker or supervisor taunting an employee for their religious beliefs
  • The use of racial slurs in or outside the office by vendors, co-workers, or others
  • Blocking someone from leaving their office or workspace
  • A group of employees making racist or sexist jokes in the break room
  • Sexual advances, unwelcome touching, or inappropriate comments about someone’s physical appearance
  • Various threatening or demeaning behavior

What is Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment includes unwelcome sexual behavior or conduct. Sexual harassment in the workplace is considered a form of sex discrimination and is in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).

Sexual harassment includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, unwanted sexual jokes and comments, and any form of verbal or physical harassment that is sexual in nature. In addition, any form of remarks or reprisals towards a person’s sex, such as harassing a man or woman through offensive comments about men or women, in general. However, if such remarks or comments are made in isolated cases or infrequently, generally, it may not constitute sexual harassment by law.

It’s important to note that sexual harassment may not always be based on sexual desires, and the laws are gender-neutral. In other words, the harasser can be of the same sex, and use sexual harassment to control you or other employees, therefore fostering a hostile environment for employees.

What is Quid Pro Quo Harassment?

Quid pro quo harassment occurs when a superior/supervisor or employer requests a sexual act or favor in exchange as a condition for employment, pay increases, promotions, or other benefits. This can also be applied to situations where the employee is asked for sexual acts or favors to avoid any negative outcome whatsoever.

Generally, a claim for quid pro quo sexual harassment may be actionable if:

  • The employee experiences sexual advances, demands, or comments;
  • These advances come from their superior/supervisor or employer;
  • Negative actions arise from the employee’s decline or rejection;


Regardless of the employee’s decision to accept or reject such demands, it is generally unlawful if unwanted or unwelcome.

Sexual Harassment and Hostile Work Environment in California

Employees who witness and experience sexual harassment and/or a hostile work environment in California may be protected by federal and state laws under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).

While Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 applies to employers with fifteen or more employees; no minimum number of employees is required under FEHA for an employee to hold an employer accountable for sexual harassment. Furthermore, FEHA does provide a wider range of protections, including discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), harassed employee(s) will have the right to take legal action. This form of hostile workplace harassment can target a protected trait (gender, race, age, etc.) in a severe manner.

What Traits are Protected by the California State Law?

The following characteristics are protected under California’s state law:

  • Race
  • Religion
  • Color
  • National origin
  • Ancestry
  • Physical disability or mental disability
  • Medical condition or genetic information
  • Marital status
  • Sex (including being pregnant, giving birth, or breastfeeding)
  • Gender identity or gender expression
  • Age
  • Sexual orientation harassment
  • Military/Veteran status

Can I sue my Employer for creating a Hostile Work Environment?

Yes. Employers have a responsibility to prevent hostile or toxic workplaces. As an employee, your rights may have been violated by offensive behavior and conduct that has made it difficult to do your work. 

It is important to know that anyone can create a hostile work environment, not just a supervisor or boss. This can also be a coworker, a contract-based party, a non-employee, or a customer.

It is imperative to understand the grounds for a workplace harassment lawsuit, as this type of harassment must usually be pervasive or severe. Simply put, if the offensive conduct is an isolated incident and/or sporadic in nature, it may not qualify as a “Hostile Work Environment”.

An employee should be able to prove they experienced severely offensive conduct that targeted one of the protected characteristics as indicated above and the conduct ultimately affected their working conditions.

Facing harassment or hostile behavior at work results in unnecessary stress and difficulty as an employee. Kohanchi Law provides free and confidential consultations to victims of hostile workplaces and those enduring harassment in the workplace. 

Contact us and Schedule a Free Consultation.

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