San Diego Workplace Harassment Lawyer
Everyone deserves a workplace free of harassment or bullying. Unfortunately, millions of employees across the country experience some form of harassment at work. Even though harassment is illegal, employers often fail to take the steps necessary to protect their workers.
As a result, you may experience unfair treatment, discrimination, and inappropriate behavior that creates a hostile work environment.
A hostile work environment can have serious consequences for your paycheck and your mental health. If you’re like many people, your career is your passion. You’ve dedicated years of your life to get to where you are today. Harassment can make it more difficult for you to do your job. You may dread going into the office when you used to love it.
Being subjected to abusive behavior especially over a long period can lead to major mental suffering, even chronic anxiety or depression. You may feel helpless, hopeless, stuck, and powerless – especially if your harasser has seniority over you in the office. When your company fails to take action against harassment, that can feel even more dehumanizing and isolating.
Legally, you have rights. That includes the right to a workplace free from harassment and discrimination. If your company fails to address your complaints and stop your harasser’s abuse, you can take steps to protect yourself.
Going up against your employer might seem overwhelming. At Harlan Law, we’re dedicated to taking care of our clients in San Diego and greater Southern California. We’ve helped countless clients recover their careers and damages for their losses. Our legal team is passionate about fighting injustice in the workplace. You can trust us to take the burden off your shoulders. Call (619) 870-0802 today for a free consultation of your case.
Is Workplace Harassment Illegal?
Workplace harassment, discrimination, abuse, bullying, and other hostile work environments are illegal in the United States under both federal and state laws.
Federal employment laws that forbid harassment include:
- Title XII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
- Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA)
- Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA)
Title XII and the ADA cover all employers – public and private, including the government – with 15 or more employees. The ADEA covers all employers with more than 20 employees. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces these laws.
Federal employment laws cover the minimum of employees’ rights. Many states have additional employee protections. California’s state employment laws are among the strongest in the nation, with many additional protections for workers.
California has gone further than federal law with the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). This law applies to all employers with more than 5 employees. As a result, it covers many more workers than federal law. California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) enforces FEHA and handles employee complaints of harassment. As of 2016, the department has a workplace harassment prevention guide for California employers.
In order to have an effective anti-harassment policy under FEHA, employers are advised to:
- Distribute a clear and easy to understand written policy to all workers,
- Discuss the policy officially on a regular basis, such as every 6 months,
- Lead from the top, with management acting as role models,
- Provide mandatory 2-hours of training for supervisors and managers,
- Provide special training for people who handle complaints,
- Have proper procedures and policies in place to investigate and respond to complaints,
- Carry out prompt, thorough, and fair complaint investigations, and
- Take prompt and fair action to remedy the problem,
Employers are required to give top priority to any reports of harassment or wrongful behavior. Allegations that are bad enough to call for a formal investigation must be taken seriously. Your company must take steps to address harassment if there is any proof of misconduct – not just behavior that’s bad enough to be a company policy violation.
All employers covered under California law must:
- Take steps to stop and correct harassing behavior before it escalates into unlawful conduct, even if the misconduct has not yet violated the law,
- Take action to stop the behavior from happening again, and
- Consider its past enforcement to avoid carrying out the law in any discriminatory way.
Remedial measures against harassment could include:
- Training or counseling the offending employee
- Putting the offending employee on probation with “last chance” agreements
- Demotions, salary reductions, or canceled bonuses
- Suspensions, transfers, or terminations
If you are a victim of workplace harassment or bullying, sometimes these remedial measures aren’t enough. Your company may take action in writing that doesn’t translate into actual change in the workplace. In some cases, your harasser or even your company may retaliate against you for bringing up a complaint, by cutting your salary or hours, demoting you, or firing you.
Retaliation is illegal. Companies that retaliate against employees who report misconduct often have a pattern of failing to address inappropriate behavior in the workplace. These companies end up protecting harassers or abusers, sometimes over the course of years. Who knows how many careers get affected and derailed by bad actors in the meantime?
When workplace harassment becomes a part of office culture, it results in a hostile work environment. This can happen on an individual basis against a single employee or a systematic basis against employees who share a protected characteristic.
A hostile work environment can truly be devastating for your mental health and your paycheck. Fortunately, you’re protected under the law and you have rights. At Harlan Law, we’ve fought for the rights of clients in San Diego and Southern California for years.
What Is Considered Workplace Harassment?
Every workplace harassment case is different based on the company and the individuals involved. The outcome of your harassment complaint or lawsuit will depend on the facts specific to your situation. That’s why it’s important to speak to a lawyer about your case.
Harassment is any unwelcome conduct based on a “protected characteristic.” Under California law, protected characteristics include:
- Race, color, or ancestry
- Religious beliefs
- National origin
- Sex, including pregnancy
- Sexual orientation
- Gender identity
- Age (40 years or older)
- Physical or mental disability
- Medical condition
- Marital status
- Genetic information
Sexual harassment and racial harassment are two of the most common forms of harassment in the workplace. Technically, the law doesn’t protect you from harassment based on any other reason – for example, if someone simply doesn’t like you. But in some cases, a bad actor’s dislike could actually be based on prejudices like racism or sexism.
Harassment becomes unlawful conduct when:
- You have to endure the offensive behavior to continue your job,
- The conduct is so “severe and pervasive,” it creates a work environment that a reasonable person would think is hostile, abusive, or intimidating, or
- Your employer retaliates against you for filing a complaint of misconduct or participating in an investigation (as a witness, for example).
Slight insults, irritations, and isolated incidents are generally not considered unlawful behavior unless the incident was severe or the behavior becomes a “pervasive” pattern.
Offensive conduct rising to the level of harassment could include:
- Offensive or off-color jokes
- Slurs, epithets, or name-calling
- Intimidation, physical assault, or threats
- Psychological harassment or abuse
- Bullying or emotional abuse
- Sexualizing and sexual advances
- “Quid pro quo” arrangements involving sexual favors
- Ridicule, insults, public put-downs or mockery
- Offensive images or objects around the office
- Sabotaging or interfering with work performance
Your harasser may be a coworker, a direct supervisor, a superior from another department, another agent or contractor working for your employer, a non-employee (such as parcel delivery couriers or visitors), a client, or even a subordinate.
Harassment is a serious issue with terrible consequences. If the bullying is bad enough, you might have to take leave from work because of stress or mental anguish. You might have to file for workers’ compensation or even disability. No one should have to go through it.
Harassment becomes even more toxic when employers fail to take action even when it becomes a regular problem in the workplace. The mental strain going up against your employer on your own can be a lot to bear, especially with problems so entrenched in the office.
Part of your lawyer’s job is to take this burden off of your shoulders and guide you with expertise. You need to have a lawyer you can trust to advise you through the process of holding your employer accountable for workplace harassment.
At Harlan Law, your consultation is free and our attorneys take cases on a contingency basis, which means you don’t pay unless we recover. Call (619) 870-0802 to get started now.
What Is A Hostile Work Environment?
A pattern or culture of harassment can create an abusive and hostile workplace. A hostile work environment is where harassment is so “severe and pervasive” that a reasonable person would find it offensive, intimidating, or abusive. So much that they struggle to do their job.
A coworker simply being annoying, rude, or obnoxious is not enough to create a hostile work environment. In order to qualify, you must show that:
- The offensive conduct is discriminatory based on a protected characteristic
- The behavior is repetitive and continues over time
- Your employer fails to investigate or address the behavior to make it stop
- The hostile actions are so severe that they disrupt your ability to do your work or interfere in your career progress
If you’re facing a hostile work environment, you might struggle with what to do next. If your employer has a history of ignoring or retaliating against complaints, you might not feel safe enough to bring your issues to HR. If your harasser is your direct supervisor, you might be afraid to speak up against them for fear of more abuse or even termination.
The best thing to do in this situation is to talk to a local employment lawyer who specializes in harassment cases like yours. At Harlan Law, your first consultation is free. That means you can speak to an attorney as soon as possible with no financial risk or commitment.
You’ve worked hard to get where you are. Your career deserves a strong advocate.
Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
If there’s one thing the Me Too movement has shown, it’s that sexual harassment is still a major problem in American workplaces. Sexual harassment can take many forms, including:
- Physical harassment such as touching or sexual assault
- Verbal harassment such as offensive sexual comments
- Visual harassment such as exposing oneself
- Harassment by implication (not explicitly spelled out)
California law recognizes two types of sexual harassment. The first is “quid pro quo,” which literally translates to “a thing for a thing.” This happens whenever an employment benefit is made conditional on a sexual favor in return. The benefit could be anything, such as:
- A positive performance review
- Getting assigned to high-profile projects
- A good recommendation
- Scheduling and shift assignments
- A raise, promotion, or bonus
- Keeping your job through layoffs
A single instance of quid pro quo is enough to qualify as illegal harassment.
The second type of sexual harassment in the workplace is a hostile work environment. This happens when sexual harassment is so severe and pervasive that a reasonable person would find it to be offensive, intimidating, or abusive.
This type of harassment might not necessarily result in discipline or lost opportunities that are easy to define. Instead, a hostile work environment is a constant source of stress that makes it harder for a victim to perform their job duties. This could involve:
- Inappropriate touching at work
- Posting pornographic or offensive materials
- Verbal harassment including sexual references, jokes, or innuendos
- Frequent questions or intrusive conversations about your sex life
- Repeated requests to engage in sexual conduct or go on dates
- A pattern of sexual favoritism in the office
- Retaliation after being sexually rebuffed
Sexual harassment also covers pregnancy and childbirth-related conditions. Under the law, it’s illegal for anyone in the office to harass or penalize you based on whether or not you’re pregnant or plan to get pregnant in the future.
Up to 40% of employees claim to have experienced some type of sexual harassment at work, including sexual advances or inappropriate touching. A hostile work environment makes it that much harder for victims of sexual harassment to come forward. When your employer fails to support you against harassment, it’s hard not to feel like the office is against you.
How Do You Prove a Hostile Work Environment in California?
Workplace harassment cases are fact-specific. The outcome of your individual case will depend on the specifics of your situation. No two cases are ever the same.
When determining whether harassment occurred, a court will consider:
- The type of conduct in question – whether the harassment was verbal, physical, or both. Physical threats or acts of assault usually mean higher penalties.
- How often and frequently the harassment occurred – whether the problem is a pervasive problem or an isolated incident.
- Whether you took the proper steps to report the harassment if you could – generally, the law allows your employer some time to address the offensive behavior.
- Your employer’s response to any complaints of harassment – whether they were aware of the problematic behavior and failed to take action or not.
- The effects of the harassment on you – whether the conduct affected your ability or desire to perform your job duties.
Most importantly, in order to prove harassment and recover under the law, you must show discriminatory intent against one of your protected characteristics.
Any evidence of harassment is useful – including witness testimony – but written evidence is usually the best. You should keep written documentation for any communication you have with your employer about the harassment. If you reach out to HR or your manager, for example, make sure to do so in an email where you make your complaints known in writing.
Harassment can be subtle and insidious. You may suffer from thousands of microaggressions instead of a single major incident. It helps to record as much of it as you can. A paper trail is extremely useful when it comes to proving a hostile work environment.
Your lawyer can help you gather the best evidence for your case.
How Do You Report Workplace Harassment?
Usually, the first step in a harassment action involves filing a complaint through the processes that your employer has already set up. This is assuming that your employer actually has proper procedures in place and you feel safe enough to do so without fear of retaliation.
Anyone can file a claim of harassment, even if they’re not the victim. You need only be a witness of harassment in order to report it to your employer.
Although you don’t need a lawyer for this step, it’s good to have one. An expert employment lawyer can help you set forth the most relevant facts in your case in a straightforward way. Your lawyer will help you build and present your case and collect the documentation, records, witnesses, and other important details you need to prove harassment. Your lawyer will also guide you on how to protect yourself during the process.
In the best-case scenario, your issue gets resolved at this step to your satisfaction. But in many cases, especially if a company culture suffers from a hostile work environment, you may not get much of a resolution. Or the resolution you get may simply be window dressing, without actually addressing the problem. You may even suffer from retaliation, especially if you’re harasser hears about the complaint against them and finds out that you filed it. Other people in the office may shun you out of loyalty to the company as a result.
This can be shocking and upsetting but it happens all too often. At this point, you have to file a complaint with the government to investigate your claim.
If your claim is covered under federal law, you’ll file your complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
if your claim is covered under state law, you’ll file your complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).
Your lawyer will guide you through the process and help you fill out the necessary forms. Once you file your claim with a government agency, they will investigate.
A harassment investigation could involve:
- Interviewing witnesses and getting testimony
- Visiting your workplace or requesting more information from your employer
- Initiating a mediation between you and your employer
Once the investigation completes, the state or federal agency may choose to pursue a lawsuit on your behalf. But in most cases, the agency will send you a “right to sue” letter allowing you to file your own private lawsuit against your employer.
Once you get a right to sue letter, you must act quickly – within 90 days to be exact. If you miss this deadline, your case might get thrown out of court and you’ll lose your chance.
If you haven’t contacted a lawyer yet, now’s the time.
Can You Sue for Workplace Harassment?
Your employer has a legal duty to ensure a safe working environment without harassment for all employees. Your company must act quickly and responsibly when facing complaints of workplace harassment. If it fails, you can hold your employer liable in the court of law.
In California, employers are responsible for any harassment at their workplace, even if the company had no idea and no fault in the matter. Even if management was unaware, the company would still be on the hook for any damages you suffered as a result. Your company will also be responsible for harassment if they knew about it and did nothing.
In some cases, your employer may avoid the brunt of responsibility if:
- Harassment involved a non-management employee,
- The company had proper anti-harassment initiatives in place and took reasonable steps to correct the harassing behavior, and
- You unreasonably failed to take advantage of the remedies provided by your employer.
In response to complaints of harassment involving non-management employees or third parties like independent contractors, clients, or vendors, your employer must take prompt and proper corrective action. Otherwise, your company could be held responsible for allowing the harassment to continue despite knowing about it.
Hiring a San Diego Workplace Harassment Lawyer
At Harlan Law, we treat our clients like family. Our Southern California legal team is dedicated to your recovery. We’re here to fight to make you whole – to compensate you for the losses you’ve suffered as a result of the harassment you’ve endured.
In harassment and hostile work environment cases, you can recover monetary damages for:
- Lost wages and benefits
- Lost job opportunities or promotions
- Emotional distress you’ve suffered as a result of harassment
- Any attorney’s fees you’ve had to pay in pursuing your case
If you are able to show that your employer acted with malice or tried to cover up workplace harassment, you might be able to recover punitive damages. These damages are designed to punish your employer for knowingly allowing or endorsing illegal conduct. This remedy is reserved for the most severe and offensive cases.
Call the offices of Harlan Law at (619) 870-0802 today for your free consultation with an experienced employment and workplace harassment lawyer. Our law firm handles all types of employment law cases for employees, including those facing discrimination at work. Ask about our contingency fee structure, where we take your case with no financial risk to you.
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