5 Signs of Workplace Bullying in California

workplace bullying in california

You don’t have to be best friends with your coworkers to have a healthy and productive workplace. Clashes of personality and management styles can be unpleasant but normal parts of navigating the working world.

However, sometimes, conflicts on the job can rise to a level beyond ordinary disagreement. When you’re facing offensive or aggressive behavior from colleagues, that’s bullying, and it has no place in a healthy work environment.

This blog post will examine some common signs of workplace bullying in California. We’ll also discuss what the law says about intimidating behavior at work and the steps employees should take if they’re experiencing it.

What Does Workplace Bullying Look Like?

Workplace bullying happens when an individual or group of employees face repeated abusive, intimidating treatment at work. This mistreatment can occur at the hands of anyone in the workplace: coworkers, managers, executives, clients, third-party vendors, contractors, and customers.

Let’s walk through five common types of workplace bullying that should be red flags to employees in California.

1. Verbal Abuse

This is one of the forms of workplace bullying employees experience most frequently. Verbal abuse can include insults, belittling, and malicious comments—all of which the speaker may try to write off as “jokes.”

Aggressive criticism and micromanagement can also function as a form of verbal bullying. For example, a supervisor who consistently mocks or questions your ideas—especially in front of your colleagues—seems more invested in putting you down than providing constructive feedback.

2. Sabotage

When someone interferes with your work for reasons unrelated to legitimate business interests, that’s another form of bullying. Some other examples of sabotage include:

  • Someone purposefully prevents you from working,
  • A manager withholds resources you need to do your job, and
  • A colleague steals or claims credit for your work.

When someone’s behavior intentionally and maliciously blocks your opportunities for career growth, that’s a red flag.

3. Intimidation

This often happens when someone uses physical or verbal threats to coerce you into behaving a certain way. Intimidation is often blatant, for example, when it involves yelling, menacing physical contact, and outright aggression. However, it can also appear in more subtle ways. For example, your manager might pressure you to comply with certain requests by suggesting that refusal could lead to negative performance reviews or job loss. 

4. Exclusion

Sometimes, bullying can look like purposeful exclusion from work-related communications, networks, or events. Repeatedly leaving someone off important email chains or out of relevant decision-making meetings could be signs of targeted exclusion. 

5. Cyberbullying

Hostile behavior doesn’t have to happen in the physical job environment to be workplace bullying. Perpetrators often turn to email, social media, and other digital platforms to belittle or intimidate coworkers. Threats, insults, and humiliation that happen online are no less offensive than when they happen to your face. 

Can I Sue for Workplace Bullying in California?

Workplace bullying isn’t strictly illegal under either California or federal law. 

However, employees can sue if bullying crosses the line into workplace harassment or discrimination. California employees receive protections from certain forms of targeted mistreatment under several laws, including:

For workplace bullying to be illegal, the mistreatment must target one of the traits or identity categories protected under these laws. We can demonstrate this by comparing two examples. 

First, imagine a restaurant hires a waitress who is a native Spanish speaker and speaks English with an accent. Some other employees make offensive jokes and comments about the new waitress, even sabotaging her workstation while she’s on a shift. If the bullying the waitress faces specifically targets her ethnic background, she could be a victim of illegal harassment or discrimination under Title VII or FEHA. 

Now, imagine the same restaurant hires a waitress to replace an employee dismissed for excessive lateness. Some other employees who were friends with the former worker resent the new waitress for taking her place.

They regularly belittle and insult the new waitress, including sabotaging her work. Although this seems like a clear case of bullying, this misconduct, while cruel, doesn’t qualify as illegal harassment or discrimination.

What Should I Do If I Experience Bullying at Work?

Although there is no law against workplace bullying, that doesn’t mean you should have to tolerate abusive behavior at work.

Here are some steps you can take to protect yourself and get help:

  • Review your company’s policies and reporting procedures. Generalized workplace bullying may not be against the law, but it could still violate your employer’s standards for appropriate conduct. Make sure you understand the proper procedures for reporting workplace misconduct with HR or your supervisor.
  • Collect evidence of inappropriate behavior. Create a paper trail documenting when and where bullying happens. Save relevant emails, digital messages, and notes. Write a detailed description of any incidents of misbehavior immediately after they occur.
  • Report the bullying to your supervisor or HR. Follow the steps required for making a formal internal complaint about inappropriate behavior. Include any relevant evidence or documentation you’ve collected, and keep in contact with your supervisor or HR representative.
  • Contact an employment lawyer. Illegal harassment and discrimination aren’t always blatant, even when you’re the target. An employment lawyer can evaluate your situation and help you understand your legal rights and options. 

Employers have a legal duty to protect their employees from discrimination and harassment in the workplace. The duty includes promptly investigating any reports of abusive, hostile, or intimidating behavior. If your employer fails to take appropriate actions to address bullying that ends up being illegal misconduct, they can face legal penalties for their inaction. 

Get Help from an Experienced Advocate

At Starpoint Law, we understand that employees facing bullying at work often feel isolated and powerless. However, you don’t have to suffer in silence alone. It’s our firm’s mission to help Californians facing workplace disputes access trusted legal advice and reliable representation, regardless of industry or income level.

Our attorneys offer free one-on-one consultations for employees facing potential harassment, discrimination, or other workplace misconduct. Contact our office today to speak to a Los Angeles employment lawyer about your case.

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Starpoint Injury Law Staff

Starpoint Law was founded on a number of core principles that allow us to help our clients and develop deep and meaningful relationships. If you have suffered injuries or facing an issue with your employer, reach out to our legal team and we can sit down for a free consultation and start the process immediately.

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