California law protects the right of workers to be free from discriminatory harassment. Unlawful harassment in the workplace occurs when employees are harassed because of their race, gender, or membership in any other group that is protected by laws that prohibit employment discrimination. The workplace harassment lawyers at Minnis & Smallets represent victims who were subjected to unlawful harassment in their jobs.
In the context of employment, harassment is offensive conduct directed toward employees because of their membership in a protected class, such as because of their sex, race, sexual orientation, age, or disability. Examples of offensive conduct include racial or ethnic slurs, mocking an accent, offensive jokes, stereotyping, derogatory remarks that refer to the employee’s protected class, ridicule, insults, physical assaults, threats, intimidation, offensive pictures or cartoons, and interference with work performance.
Unless it is very serious, a single incident of harassment may not rise to the level of harassment required to violate employment discrimination laws. Unwanted sexual touching by a supervisor that rises to the level of a sexual assault is an example of severe conduct that may violate harassment laws even if it is not repeated.
A hostile work environment exists when harassment is so frequent, pervasive, or severe that a reasonable person would regard it as intimidating, hostile, or abusive. The hostile work environment may be created by business owners and supervisors, by other employees, or by other people (such as independent contractors) who are present in the workplace.
Workplace harassment is unlawful in California if it is based on the employee’s membership in a protected class. Discrimination laws prohibit harassment based on the employee’s:
Even if an employee is not a member of a protected class, harassment based on the mistaken perception that an employee belongs to a protected class is unlawful.
In addition to protecting employees, California’s workplace harassment laws also protect job applicants and independent contractors.
Discrimination laws also prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who report or oppose harassment, who cooperate in harassment investigations, or who testify in legal proceedings on behalf of an employee who claims to be the victim of harassment. An employee is protected from such retaliation even if the employee does not belong to a protected class.
Employers are responsible for a hostile work environment that was created or condoned by management or for harassment that is perpetrated by a supervisor with authority over the employee. Employers may not be responsible for the harassing acts of other employees or outsiders in the workplace unless they knew, or should have known, of the harassment.
For that reason, employees who are affected by harassment should consider reporting the harassment to someone in management or an employee designated by management who has the authority to investigate and act upon harassment complaints. If the employer has a policy or procedure governing harassment complaints, it is usually important to follow that procedure.
Before deciding what to do about workplace harassment, it is best to obtain legal advice. It is also wise to document harassing comments or behaviors (by keeping a journal, for example) and to take pictures of physical evidence of harassment (such as pornographic pictures or racially offensive cartoons).
The workplace harassment lawyers at Minnis & Smallets have represented many employees who have been subjected to sexual and racial harassment, as well as harassment based on membership in other protected classes. We can advise you of your rights and options. We may be able to negotiate a resolution of the situation if you are still employed, or advocate for compensation if your employer has wrongfully fired you after you complained about or resisted unlawful harassment. Please call us at 1-415-551-0885 or use our online contact form to learn more about our services.