What Constitutes Workplace Harassment? | Mann & Elias
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What Constitutes Workplace Harassment?

How to Identify Harassment in the Workplace

What Constitutes Workplace Harassment?

The California Department of Justice identifies workplace harassment as verbal, visual, or physical conduct that creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.

Workplace harassment is illegal under both federal and California law and is a form of workplace discrimination. Harassment is defined as unwelcomed behavior and policies towards employees that are based upon:

  • race
  • color
  • religion
  • disability
  • sexual orientation
  • gender identity
  • sex (including pregnancy and maternity)
  • national origin
  • age (40 or older)
  • genetic information

The legal definition of workplace harassment under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), encompasses two distinct forms of harassing behavior, which are:

  1. “Quid pro quo”, in which a supervisor asks an employee to engage in sexual activity as a condition of receiving some form of benefit at work; and
  2. “Hostile work environment,” in which harassing conduct and workplace bullying create an abusive work environment for an employee.

Quid pro quo harassment is a form of sexual harassment only. By contrast, a hostile work environment does not need to involve sexual harassment, or have anything to do with sex or gender.

Common Types of Workplace Harassment

Quid Pro Quo 
Quid pro quo harassment generally results in a tangible employment decision based upon the employee’s acceptance or rejection of unwelcome sexual advances or requests for sexual favors, but can also result from unwelcome conduct that is of a religious nature. This kind of harassment is generally committed by someone who can effectively make or recommend formal employment decisions that will affect the victim.

Behaviors that are considered Quid Pro Quo include:

  • supervisor who fires or denies promotion to a subordinate for refusing to be sexually cooperative
  • supervisor requires a subordinate to participate in religious activities as a condition of employment
  • supervisor offers preferential treatment/promotion if subordinate sexually cooperates or joins supervisor’s religion

Hostile Work Environment 
A hostile environment can result from the unwelcome conduct of supervisors, co-workers, customers, contractors, or anyone else with whom the victim interacts on the job, and the unwelcome conduct renders the workplace atmosphere intimidating, hostile, or offensive.

Behaviors that are associated with a hostile environment include:

  • discussing sexual activities
  • telling jokes concerning race, sex, disability, or other protected classes
  • unnecessary touching
  • commenting on physical attributes
  • displaying sexually suggestive or racially insensitive pictures
  • using demeaning or inappropriate terms or phrases
  • using indecent gestures or crude language
  • sabotaging the victim’s work
  • engaging in hostile physical conduct

What Conduct is Considered Workplace Harassment?

First, unlawful harassing conduct must be unwelcome and based on the victim’s protected status.

Second, the conduct must be:

  • subjectively abusive to the person affected; and
  • objectively severe and pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would find hostile or abusive.

Whether an instance or a pattern of harassing conduct is severe or pervasive is determined on a case-by-case basis, with consideration paid to the following factors:

  • the frequency of the unwelcome discriminatory conduct;
  • the severity of the conduct;
  • whether the conduct was physically threatening or humiliating, or a mere offensive utterance;
  • whether the conduct unreasonably interfered with work performance;
  • the effect on the employee’s psychological well-being; and
  • whether the harasser was a superior within the organization.

Each factor is considered, but none are required or dispositive. Hostile work environment cases are often difficult to recognize, because the particular facts of each situation determine whether offensive conduct has crossed the line to be considered unlawful harassment.

What Laws Protect Victims of Workplace Harassment? 

A well-known example is the federal government’s requirement for all businesses to provide an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to all employees in California.

These are some other workplace harassment laws:

  • The Equal Pay Act of 1963 makes it illegal for businesses to pay different wages to men and women if they complete the same level of work in the same workplace.
  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin or sex. It also protects victims and individuals who report these crimes in or out of the workplace.
  • The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 says that individuals over 40 years old cannot be discriminated against in the workplace because of age.

Are You a Victim of Workplace Harassment?

Experiencing sexual or unlawful harassment in the workplace can be a profoundly unsettling experience, but under California employment law, employees in this position are not alone.

As an employee in California, you have the right to be treated with respect, and to work in an environment free of harassment. Unfortunately, not all employers treat their employees well and some fail to properly address harassment and discrimination.

You also have a right to report harassment and participate in a harassment investigation or lawsuit without being retaliated against for doing so.

If you believe you may be a victim of workplace harassment, we are here to help. Don’t hesitate to contact our dedicated workplace harassment employment lawyers.

Workplace Harassment Lawyer in Los Angeles

The Law Offices of Mann & Elias is an employment law firm that provides guidance and legal support for individuals facing issues in the workplace.

At Mann & Elias, the employment law attorney and the client are a team. We treat our clients with respect and understanding for their needs, goals and objectives. To ensure that your rights as an employee are fully assessed and protected, our attorneys will represent your best interests and address your concerns at every step of the case.

For an initial consultation and dedicated representation with no upfront fees, contact us by phone at 323-866-9564 or by email info@mannelias.com today.

Why Choose Mann & Elias?

For over 20 years, we have settled hundreds of claims, completed 100 jury and bench trials, and recovered more than $18 million in settlements. While there are thousands of lawyers to choose from, we strongly believe our success is based on:

  • 50+ years of trial experience
  • Excellent advocacy skills
  • Intense preparation and research
  • Quality care

In the end, our goal is to understand what you need and achieve the best outcome for you by focusing on those needs.


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