Hostile Work Environment in California – How Do I Prove it?

hostile work environment california

The workplace can be many things, but it should never be hostile.

Under California and federal laws, your employer can be held liable for your pain, suffering, and financial losses if they condone or participate in harassment that creates a hostile environment. 

We can help you win justice if you are the victim of workplace harassment.

At Starpoint Law, our experienced attorneys work hard to ensure your workplace is safe and you receive just compensation for illegal, hostile treatment. 

How the Law Defines a Hostile Work Environment in California 

Before we discuss hostile work environments, we need to talk about unlawful workplace harassment. Conduct in the workplace is harassment if it is unwelcome and:

  • The victim has to endure the harassment to keep their job or receive work benefits; or 
  • The conduct is so severe or pervasive that it creates an environment reasonable people would find abusive, hostile, or intimidating. 

To be illegal and actionable, the harassment also has to be motivated by an individual’s protected characteristic(s).

The protected characteristics are veteran status, sex, religion, race, nationality, military status, marital status, genetic information, gender, color, ancestry, and age (40 and over). 

If you are the victim of harassment, you can file:

  • A civil lawsuit, 
  • A complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or 
  • A complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. 

If you prevail, you can win back pay, compensatory damages, legal fees, job reinstatement, policy changes at work, and punitive damages. 

Proving your employer punished or threatened to punish you if you refused to accept harassment is relatively straightforward.

It is often harder to prove that the harassment you endured created a hostile workplace in California.

Your workplace can be a California hostile work environment if you endured either a single extreme harassing event or constant offensive behavior.

Sometimes, a single instance of using a racial slur or a single assault is enough to create a hostile working environment

How to Prove a Hostile Work Environment in California

The first step to proving someone’s harassment created a hostile work environment is knowing what behaviors are harassing behaviors.

Harassing behaviors include:

  • Offensive jokes,
  • Slurs,
  • Name-calling,
  • Physical threats,
  • Intimidation, 
  • Epithets,  
  • Ridicule,
  • Insults,
  • Assault,
  • Displays of offensive images,
  • Offensive physical conduct, and
  • Unwanted sexual advances or requests.

You want to be able to pinpoint as many harassing behaviors as possible in your complaint.

The more harassing behaviors you can prove, the more likely a judge is to conclude that your workplace was hostile.

Evidence of a Hostile Working Environment 

You can use many pieces of evidence to prove that your workplace was hostile. Helpful evidence can include:

  • Detailed notes about each instance of harassment;
  • Copies of communications between you and your employer;
  • Employment records;
  • Copies of communications between you and your harasser;
  • Witness testimony; and
  • Copies of internal complaints about harassment.

Gather whatever you legally can and take your evidence to an experienced attorney.

Your attorney can present your evidence in the most favorable light and access additional evidence through special legal tools. 

Overcoming Employer Defenses

When an employee claims their workplace was hostile, their employer can defend themself against liability if they can prove that:

  • They reasonably tried to prevent the harassment and promptly tried to correct the harassment; and
  • The employee failed to reasonably protect themselves from harm and use complaint processes available at work. 

It is crucial that you tell your harasser to stop and file a complaint against them at work. That way, you can eliminate your employer’s ability to defend their unlawful behavior. 

Combat Hostile Work Environment: Get Support from Our California Employment Attorneys

If you are the victim of a hostile work environment in CA, you want a successful advocate on your side.

That is exactly what we can offer you at Starpoint Law.

Our experienced California employment attorneys have a stellar record, and we can provide representation tailored to your unique needs.

Don’t hesitate to call us at 310-424-9971 or contact us online for a consultation.  

Employment Lawyer Los Angeles
Author Photo

Aidin Ghavimi

Aidin is a partner at Starpoint LC, Attorneys at Law, and focuses on personal injury and employment law cases in and around Southern California. He earned his Juris Doctorate from the Loyola School of Law and his Bachelor’s from USC. Aidin’s primary goal is to bring justice to his clients and to ensure they are able to move on with their lives after a serious injury.

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