Workplace Harassment in California

Workplace Harassment in California

Workplace harassment in California – and in every other state – is against the law. In California, workers are protected by the Fair Employment and Housing Act and GC 12940, which both make it possible for employees who experience harassment to sue their employers.

Harassment can be sexual or non-sexual in nature. Either way, it’s against the law.

Here’s what you need to know.

Related: What is FEHA?

Workplace Harassment in California

The Fair Employment and Housing Act, or FEHA, discusses two types of harassment: quid pro quo and hostile work environment.

Workplace Harassment in California - How to Deal With Harassment

Quid Pro Quo Harassment

In quid pro quo harassment, which means “this for that,” a supervisor asks or tells an employee to engage in some type of sexual activity as a condition of getting some kind of benefit at work. The benefit could be a promotion or raise, or it could even be something like not getting fired.

Related: Quid pro quo harassment examples

Hostile Work Environment Harassment

In hostile work environment harassment, workplace bullying and harassing conduct create an abusive work environment. This type of harassment can be sexual or non-sexual. In order for the harassment to actually create a hostile work environment, the law requires it to be severe or pervasive. That means a minor, one-time incident may not be enough to show that there’s a hostile work environment.

You don’t have to be employed at a company to experience either of these types of harassment. You could be a job applicant, an unpaid intern, a volunteer or someone providing services under a contract (like an independent contractor).

Related: The California Employee Rights Handbook

Who’s Protected From Harassment?

While sexual harassment is clearly illegal – and employees who are sexually harassed are allowed to sue their employers for damages – nobody is allowed to harass another person based on:

Related: What is transgender discrimination?

Workplace Harassment in California: About Harassers

Workplace Harassment in California - Can You SueWe often think of harassment coming from a supervisor, manager or boss – but that doesn’t have to be the case for you to file a workplace harassment suit in California. While quid pro quo sexual harassment usually involves a supervisor (because that’s who’s in a position to offer an employee some type of benefit in exchange for sexual favors), the other types of harassment do not have to involve a supervisor, manager or boss. In fact, people who don’t even work in the same company can be harassers creating a hostile work environment. These people can be clients, customers or visiting contractors.

Employer Liability for Workplace Harassment in California

When a supervisor is responsible for workplace harassment, the employer is usually liable. However, when someone else is responsible for the harassment – like other workers, contractors or customers – the employer is usually only liable if it’s negligent. An employer is negligent if it knew (or should’ve known) about the harassment and failed to take the right actions to stop it.

Related: Workplace harassment examples

What Should You Do if You Experience Workplace Harassment in California?

Harassment is traumatizing. If you’ve experienced it, we’re truly sorry for what you’ve been through – we know what it’s like.

But you do have legal protections, and you don’t have to “grin and bear it.”

First, tell someone in your company about the harassment. You should tell a supervisor or someone in your company’s human resources department. Either of these people may be able to stop it. Remember, too, that even if a supervisor or someone from HR can’t stop the harassment, it will help you if you end up filing an official complaint or lawsuit.

You can call an attorney to explain your situation and learn about your options, too. We’re available at 818-230-8380 when you need us.


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