California Hostile Work Environment Laws 2023 – Know Your Rights!

California Hostile Work Environment Laws

Citizens of California must generally maintain employment and receive a salary to ensure their quality of life remains positive. Unfortunately, some employers take advantage of this need and fail to provide a workplace that is free of abuse and intimidation. In response, California enacted laws to protect employees and established penalties to ensure employers follow these laws. If you dread going to work each day due to harassment, you may be experiencing a hostile work environment. If your workplace environment has become hostile, you may have legal recourse. Speaking with an employment attorney is the most effective way to determine if you are facing a hostile work environment and the legal options available to you if you are.

Defining a Hostile Work Environment

Though petty annoyances and rude behavior, especially isolated incidents, can make a workplace unpleasant, it does not constitute illegal harassment. For an unpleasant work environment to be considered unlawful, the misconduct must have caused an environment that is abusive, and the behavior must be severe or pervasive. In addition, the misconduct must have been motivated by a legally protected class or characteristic outlined in the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).

California’s protected classes are:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Ancestry
  • National Origin
  • Genetic Information
  • Marital Status
  • Sex
  • Gender
  • Gender Identity/ Expression
  • Sexual Identity
  • Physical Disability
  • Mental Disability
  • Medical Condition
  • Religion
  • Military or Veteran Status
  • Age, If The Targeted Employee Is Older Than 40
  • Reproductive Health Decision-Making (Jan 1, 2024)

It is important to note that persons not within these protected classes may have grounds for a hostile work environment lawsuit if their personal safety has been threatened. The federal government also has anti-harassment laws pertaining to the workplace, but they are generally less broad than California protections.

Who Can Make a Workplace Hostile?

Anyone within a workplace can act in a way that constitutes hostile work environment harassment. Under the FEHA, harassment can be perpetrated by:

  • Coworkers
  • Supervisors
  • Employers
  • Contractors
  • Clients
  • Customers

It is, however, difficult to hold your employer responsible for harassment unless the misbehavior was committed by someone other than a supervisor. If a supervisor harasses you, your employer is strictly liable for their actions, even without any negligence on their part. If anyone other than a supervisor or manager acts harassingly, you must show your employer knew about the harassment and took no action to prevent or stop it. In other words, the employer must have acted negligently to be liable.

Conduct That Can Cause a Hostile Environment

Ultimately, there is a wide range of behaviors that can constitute harassment and a hostile work environment. One important factor required for classifying behavior as harassment is whether any reasonable person would consider the work environment hostile, abusive, or oppressive. There are two broad categories of actions that can cause a hostile work environment:

  • Sexual Harassment When someone in the workplace sexually harasses an employee, it can create an unsafe environment. Sexually harassing behavior is far from only pressing someone to engage in sexual activities or unwanted touching. Using sexually explicit language, showing inappropriate photos, staring suggestively, or telling lewd jokes are also examples.
  • Displaying Offensive Material or Using Offensive Language Showing material or using language that offensively targets a person of a protected class or characteristic is considered illegal harassment in a workplace. For example, telling jokes that insult gender identity, referring to someone with a racial slur, making claims an older employee is a hindrance due to their age, or mocking a disabled employee with comics are all examples of offensive material or language in a workplace.

Hostile Work Environment Filing Deadlines

California treats workplace harassment as a form of discrimination, and the process is handled similarly. If you speak with your employer or HR department and the issue is not resolved, you should then file a complaint with the California Civil Rights Department (CRD), formerly the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). You have three years after the date of the alleged violation to file this complaint. If the issue is substantiated but still not resolved after this complaint is filed, the CRD will issue you a right-to-sue letter that permits you to bring a lawsuit against your employer. Once you have the right-to-sue letter, you have one year to file the lawsuit in civil court.


Q: Is It Worth It to Sue My Employer for a Hostile Work Environment?

A: If you have given your employer notice of the harassment, they are obligated to attempt to remedy the issue. If they do not, it is absolutely worth it to bring a lawsuit against them. Employers may be legally obligated to pay victims of harassment damages such as back pay, emotional distress, retirement funds, and attorney fees.

Q: How Can I Prove a Hostile Work Environment?

A: Thorough documentation is one of the most important pieces of evidence in a hostile work environment claim. It is important that you maintain a detailed, written record of each event that also notes the date and time. You should also copy text messages, emails, and other communications that show or discuss the harassment. All disclosures of the harassment to your employer should also be documented.

Q: How Should an Employer Treat a Hostile Workplace Complaint?

A: Employers should take each complaint seriously by conducting a fair and unbiased investigation. If the complaint is substantiated, the harasser should be disciplined, moved to a different position or department, or terminated. If your employer takes no action, you can sue them for failing in their responsibility to prevent workplace harassment.

Q: Do I Need an Employment Attorney to File a Hostile Work Environment Complaint and Lawsuit?

A: There is no requirement to consult with an attorney if you decide to move forward with a hostile workplace complaint and lawsuit; however, an employment attorney can help you receive the maximum amount of compensation possible for your situation. They will have extensive legal knowledge and experience that will ensure you navigate the process correctly while also handling your concerns.

Fighting a Hostile Workplace

If you believe you are dealing with a hostile work environment, Shirazi Law Firm, PC, can help you evaluate your situation and ensure you are properly compensated. Contact our office today for a consultation.

Email or Call Shirazi Law Firm for a consultation: 310-400-5891. Join us on the following networks for the latest legal news:

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