What Is a Hostile Work Environment?

If you are a typical California resident, you head to work five days a week. Everyone knows that no workplace is ideal in all respects, and whether you love or hate your job, undoubtedly there are times when you wish you did not have to be there.

Sometimes words, actions or events at your workplace can constitute harassment. As FindLaw explains, Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act forbids workplace harassment on the basis of race, gender, religion or national origin. The number of harassment claims, particularly sexual harassment claims, has risen dramatically in recent years.

If you believe you are being sexually harassed at work, it is important for you to understand that such behavior(s) must be objectively offensive to rise to the level of creating a hostile work environment. Put another way, they must be severe enough that any reasonable person would find your work environment to be abusive and/or hostile.

How much harassment is too much?

Unfortunately, there is no answer to how much harassment is too much. California courts continue to expand – or restrict – the answer on a case-by-case basis. However, courts usually consider the following four factors:

  1. How often did the conduct happen?
  2. How severe was it?
  3. Was it physically threatening?
  4. Did it interfere with the complaining employee’s performance at work?

Under most circumstances, offensive words alone are not enough to create a hostile work environment. They must be accompanied by offensive acts. However, if you can prove that the words were humiliating and/or vulgar enough to constitute a verbal assault on you, then words without action can be a valid workplace sexual harassment/hostile work environment claim. This is general information only and is not intended to provide legal advice.

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