California Hostile Work Environment Laws

Written by J. Hirby and Fact Checked by The Law Dictionary Staff  

What do you expect from a day at work? Most people can at least anticipate pleasant coworkers, an understanding boss and safe surroundings. Other California workers may find themselves employed in a hostile work environment. However, the criteria for a hostile workplace in California is greater than an annoying coworker or a demanding boss. Understanding the legal definition of a hostile work environment is a good place to start.

How California Defines a Hostile Work Environment

As an employee you are expected to fulfill certain duties and responsibilities. The environment with which your employer provides you should be conducive toward you completing all of the necessary tasks you were hired for. When your boss or a coworker behaves in such a manner that doing your job becomes impossible, they have created a hostile work environment for you.

In order to legally qualify as a hostile work environment in California the behavior that makes fulfilling your responsibilities impossible must also be discriminatory. For instance, a coworker who tells sexually explicit stories in your hearing or disseminates inappropriate photographs to your email address is behaving in a discriminatory manner. The supervisor who makes disparaging comments about your race or religion is also out of line and may be creating a hostile work environment.

Other Legal Requirements

A claim for a hostile work environment cannot be made on the basis of a single off-color joke. Such an incident might be inappropriate and may even be worth reporting to human resources, but it hardly creates a pervasive atmosphere of hostility. Thus, in order to have a hostile work environment, a pattern of behavior over a period of time must be established. Moreover, the behavior must be particularly egregious and disruptive. Unless it is seriously interfering with your on the job performance, it may not be a hostile work environment.

What To Do in a Hostile Work Environment

Make it known that you do not appreciate the jokes, comments and other discriminatory behavior. Follow your organization's harassment and discrimination policy. This usually means reporting the behavior to a supervisor or the human resources department. Follow through with all steps of the policy before deciding whether or not to pursue legal remedies. If you comply with all of your company's policies and still cannot resolve the problem, you'll stand a better chance of making a successful legal claim. Hopefully, the situation will never go that far.

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