Is It Workplace Bullying or Sexual Harassment?

Are there legal differences between workplace bullying and sexual harassment?

Workplace bullying is not explicitly illegal in California. However, employers in California who have 50 or more employees are required to provide training to supervisors every two years that includes training on prevention of workplace bullying. But if workplace bullying crosses a line into workplace harassment, then you may have a legal right to compensation.

Under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), employees have a legal right to be free from workplace harassment on the basis of the following protected traits:

  • Race
  • Religion
  • Color
  • Ancestry
  • National origin
  • Disability, whether physical or mental
  • Mental condition or genetic information
  • Marital status
  • Sex
  • Gender, gender identity and gender expression
  • Age
  • Sexual orientation
  • Military/veteran status

So, depending on the type of bullying that occurs, it is very easy for a coworker or other employee to cross the line from workplace bullying to hostile work environment harassment based on one of the above factors. For example, suppose Anam is the only Muslim employee at her office. Her colleagues often make rude comments about her headscarf and her ability to do her job. She is never invited to her colleagues’ social outings and on occasion, she has heard them use ethnic slurs. In this case, workplace bullying gave way to harassment based on her religion, which she is protected from under California law and thus could be entitled to damages.

If you believe that the bullying you are suffering in the workplace is actually a form of unlawful harassment, you should discuss your case in a free, no obligation consultation with an employment law attorney in your area.

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