What Is Considered a Hostile Work Environment?

There are two definitions of workplace sexual harassment in California: quid pro quo and hostile work environment. If you believe that you are suffering from a hostile work environment in California, you have legal rights – even if you are not the direct target of sexual harassment or discrimination at your workplace. No worker should have to suffer from a hostile work environment in silence.

What Is the Definition of a Hostile Work Environment?

Quid pro quo translates to “this for that.” In a sexual harassment case, this refers to a manager or someone else in the workplace offering something in exchange for sexual favors, such as a job promotion or a promise not to terminate the victim’s employment. The second type of sexual harassment is a hostile work environment. This refers to inappropriate actions or behaviors in the workplace that are severe or pervasive enough to create an intimidating, dangerous or abusive environment for victims. 

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the conduct in question generally must be persistent, meaning it occurred multiple times. In some cases, however, an isolated action can be severe or damaging enough to create a hostile work environment. Small-level ridicule or petty annoyances typically do not rise to the level of a hostile work environment. The incident must be severe enough to create an environment that would be considered abusive or offensive to a reasonable person.

Three Types of Hostile Work Environments

In California, hostile work environment lawsuits generally involve one of three types of workplace harassment:

  1. Sexual harassment. Sexual harassment can consist of unwelcome and inappropriate touching, kissing, hugging, sexual innuendos, catcalls, and requests for sexual favors.
  2. Harassment based on a protected class. A protected class refers to a worker’s race, color, religion, sexual orientation, nationality, age or disability.
  3. Bullying or intimidation. This can make a worker feel physically unsafe or at risk of bodily harm in the workplace.

There are many different examples of workplace sexual harassment and hostile work environments. If you’re unsure if you have grounds for a claim, tell your story to a lawyer.

What to Do if You Have a Hostile Work Environment

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be the direct target of sexual harassment to have a claim for a hostile work environment. Simply trying to work in an office with a workplace culture of sexual harassment or discrimination, or witnessing someone else be harassed, can be enough to make you feel unsafe at work. The harassing party also does not have to be in a managerial position. It can be a coworker, customer or anyone else in the workplace. 

If you believe you are dealing with a hostile work environment in California, report your concerns to a manager right away. If you feel safe and comfortable doing so, tell the harasser directly that his or her conduct is unwelcome and must stop. Your employer has a legal responsibility to intervene if there is evidence of sexual harassment. If you report the incident and your employer doesn’t do anything to resolve the issue, you can take your claim to the next level – the EEOC or the California Department of Fair Employment & Housing.

State and/or federal agencies will carefully investigate your complaint and visit your workplace to search for signs of a hostile work environment. Then, the department will take action against your employer for allowing sexual harassment to exist or continue in your workplace. A resolution may include financial compensation awarded to you or others who suffered losses because of the hostile work environment, such as lost wages, missed earning opportunities, and pain and suffering. 

For more information about your legal rights as a victim of a hostile work environment in California, contact a lawyer at Manly, Stewart & Finaldi for a free case review.