Not all harassment is sexual harassment. Although it incredibly pervasive and tends to make headlines, sexual harassment is only one form of illegal behavior that can go on in the workplace. “Harassment” is a blanket term that describes all unwanted conduct that is unlawful, but it is important to understand that not every bad behavior engaged in by an employer qualifies as harassment. While employers are free to be unpleasant, any Los Angeles employment lawyer will tell you that harassing behavior based on a protected status of the employee opens employers up to liability.
Protected classes include:
- Color or ethnicity
- Sexual orientation
Some types of harassment include off-color or racist jokes, name-calling or sending offensive cartoons or pictures to employees. Harassment can also encompass any action that makes the terms and conditions of employment more difficult for members of a protected class.
California requires employers to take all steps necessary to prevent harassment from occurring. Two ways employers can comply is instituting an explicit anti-discrimination and harassment policy and ensuring that all supervisors receive adequate training. The absence of either of these safeguards might mean that the employer has failed to take adequate steps to prevent harassment, though it can occur even if these policies are in place.
If you are suffering from harassment because you are in any of the protected classes mentioned above, it is vitally important that you report any instance of non-sexual harassment as it occurs, preferably in a written report. If the harassment is coming from a co-worker, the company must have knowledge of the harassment and must have a chance to correct the behavior. In addition, the company must take prompt and sufficient action to make sure there is no further harassment. If the harassing behavior is coming directly from a supervisor or manager, the company is automatically liable for harassment.
Over time, continued harassment can add up to create a hostile working environment, indicating that the harassment in the workplace was severe and pervasive. Most often, this environment arises in the case of sexual harassment or gender discrimination. However, laws in California dictate that a hostile workplace can stem from any environment that is discriminatory against a protected class. The determination of how hostile or abusive the workplace is depends on the totality of the circumstances.
Factors that affect the determination include:
- the frequency of the conduct
- the severity of the conduct
- how humiliating or physically threatening the conduct is
- whether the employee’s work performance is hindered by the harassing behavior
If you are stuck in a hostile workplace or you have become the victim of harassment at work because of your age, sexual orientation, race, color or ethnicity, you should contact a Los Angeles employment attorney to find out about your legal options.