Our office receives a lot of calls from people inquiring as to whether they were victims to a hostile work environment. Since California employees are not employment lawyers, most employees simply do not know what is and is not a hostile work environment under California law. Therefore, it would be a good idea to take the time to review what constitutes a hostile work environment under the law.
A hostile work environment is basically a type of harassment in the work place. It can be manifested by various kinds of verbal and physical conduct, thereby creating a hostile or offensive working environment. However, this does not mean that any kind of verbal or physical conduct against an employee creates a hostile work environment. Rather, the courts have laid out a specific test with requirements that an employee must satisfy in order to establish a hostile work environment.
Hostile Work Environment Requires a Protected Characteristic
To establish a hostile work environment under FEHA, the employee must first show that the harassment creating the hostile work environment was based on a protected characteristic. A protected characteristic includes, but is not limited to, race, national origin, gender, sex, sexual orientation, religion, marital status, or disability. This basically means that the employer’s discriminatory conduct must be motivated or caused by the employee’s protected characteristic. For example, a hostile work environment is created if a supervisor uses offensive jokes, slurs or name calling, intimidation, ridicule, and insults against an employee because the employee is a certain race or ethnicity.
Severe or Pervasive to Alter the Working Conditions
Second, the employee must show that the harassment was so severe or pervasive as to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment and create an abusive working environment. Basically, all this means is that a reasonable person, viewing the work environment from the outside, would perceive it as hostile or abusive. To determine this, the following factors are considered are frequency of the discriminatory conduct, and the severity of the conduct. In the U.S. Supreme Court case, Harris v. Forklift Sys., Inc., the court found that a supervisor’s conduct towards a female employee met the threshold for severe and pervasive when the supervisor made sexual comments and advances toward the female employee, as well as made derogatory remarks in the presence of and directed at the female employee such as “you’re a woman, what do you know,” and “we need a man as the rental manager.”
Unfortunately, employees all over California are subjected to an abusive and hostile work environment every day. But that is why there are employee rights attorneys to deter such treatment from happening, and to represent victims of a hostile work environment. If you are experiencing an abusive and hostile work environment based on a protected characteristic, call an employee rights attorney immediately.