• Jul 09, 2024
  • Workplace Discrimination

Workplace Bullying in California

Workplace Bullying In California

Workplace bullying in California can refer to repeated, abusive conduct or health-harming mistreatment of one or more California employees by one or other employees, employers, or contractors. Workplace bullying can include verbal abuse, sexual harassment, any type of offensive conduct or behavior, and work interference which might prevent work duties from getting accomplished. Depending on the severity and frequency of the workplace bullying behavior, it could violate California employment law and the workplace might be considered a hostile work environment. A hostile work environment can violate California law

Forms of Unlawful Workplace Bullying

Forms of Bullying and Illegal Workplace Harassment:

  • Verbal Abuse: Insults, ridicule, and offensive remarks. This could include verbal sexual orientation harassment, gender identity or national origin harassment, and/or ridiculing those with physical and mental disabilities.
  • Non-verbal/Indirect Bullying: This type of workplace behavior can include exclusion, isolation, and spreading rumors.
  • Work Sabotage: This type of workplace bullying crosses the line by deliberately interfering with someone’s work performance or creating impossible deadlines for them.
  • Cyberbullying: Bullying through electronic means such as emails, social media, and other online platforms.

Legal Protections

No Specific Anti-Bullying Law: As of now, California does not have a specific law that addresses workplace bullying directly. However, the California Fair Employment Act does protect workers from unlawful harassment.

  • Harassment Laws: Bullying based on protected characteristics (race, gender, age, etc.) can be considered harassment under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).
  • Retaliation Protections: Employees who report unwanted sexual advances, bullying, a hostile work environment, or cooperate in intimidating workplace behavior investigations are protected from retaliation under various whistleblower protection laws.
  • Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA): Employers are usually required to provide a safe working environment, and severe workplace harassing behavior that affects health and safety could be addressed under OSHA regulations​.

Employer Responsibilities

Before there are behaviors that take place that defines workplace bullying, preventive measures should be taken, like sexual harassment training, for example, that explains what the behavior is, the consequences, and the legal action that could take place if the behavior is still displayed.

  • Anti-Bullying Policies: Employers are encouraged to implement clear anti-bullying policies and procedures that align with California discrimination laws.
  • Training Programs: Regular trainings on workplace conduct, respectful behavior, and anti-bullying practices should be implemented.
  • Safe Reporting Operations: Employers should establish confidential and accessible reporting systems for employees to report bullying incidents.

Corrective Actions:

If California workplace bullying still occurs, in spite of the above preventative measures, there are corrective actions that should be taken to discipline the bully.

  • Investigation: HR should conduct a prompt and thorough investigation of the reported bullying incidents.
  • Disciplinary Measures: Appropriate disciplinary actions against bullies and harassers should be taken, which could range from warnings to termination to legal recourse.

Remedies for Victims

Internal Resolution: Each victim is entitled to pursue legal action, or at least seek legal counsel, if they do not feel safe in their workplace. A California employment attorney, like the ones at Lawyers for Justice, PC (LFJ), may be able to help the victim retrieve compensation if they experience workplace bullying.

  • Reporting: Victims should report bullying to their supervisors, HR departments, or through designated reporting channels within their organization.
  • Mediation: Some companies offer mediation services to resolve conflicts between employees.

Legal Actions:

  • Filing a Complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH): If bullying constitutes harassment based on a protected characteristic, victims can file a complaint with the DFEH.
  • Civil Lawsuits: Victims may also file a lawsuit with an employment lawyer for intentional infliction of emotional distress, assault, or other related claims if the bullying involves physical threats or extreme conduct​.

Resources for Employees

  • Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs): In addition to the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, many organizations provide EAPs that offer counseling and support services for employees dealing with workplace issues, including bullying.

Examples of Workplace Bullying in California

Bullying behaviors can look very different in the workplace. Here are some examples.

  • Persistent Criticism: An employee is consistently criticized by their supervisor in front of others for minor mistakes, undermining their confidence and professional reputation.
  • Isolation: A team leader instructs other team members not to speak to a particular employee, effectively isolating them and excluding them from team activities.
  • Work Sabotage: A manager deliberately gives an employee incorrect information or fails to provide critical resources, causing the employee to fail in their tasks.

Suing For Workplace Bullying in California

Suing for workplace bullying can be complex because there is no specific law in California that directly addresses or makes workplace bullying illegal. However, employees can pursue legal action under certain circumstances where the bullying overlaps with other illegal activities such as harassment or discrimination.

Legal Grounds for Suing

  1. Workplace Harassment:
    • If the bullying is based on protected characteristics (like race, gender, gender identity, age, religion, disability), it can be classified as harassment under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act.
  2. Workplace Discrimination:
    • Bullying that results in improper treatment, or creates a hostile work environment for an individual based on protected characteristics, can be grounds for a discrimination lawsuit​.
  3. Workplace Retaliation:
    • If an employee faces bullying or penalizing actions after filing a complaint or whistleblowing improper behavior, they can sue for retaliation under various California and federal laws​​.
  4. Constructive Discharge:
    • If bullying employees becomes so bad that it creates intolerable working conditions and forces the employee to resign, it could be considered constructive discharge. This may allow the employee to sue for wrongful termination.

Steps to Take After Unlawful Bullying:

  1. Document the Bullying:
    • Keep detailed records of all bullying incidents (like offensive jokes and toxic workplace culture), including dates, times, locations, witnesses, and the nature of what happened.
  2. Report the Bullying:
    • Follow your employer’s procedures for reporting bullying. This often involves notifying your supervisor, HR department, or using a designated reporting system.
  3. File a Complaint with the DFEH:
    • If the bullying involves harassment or discrimination, file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). The DFEH will investigate the claim and may issue a right-to-sue notice.
  4. Consult an Employment Lawyer:
    • Seek legal advice from an experienced employment lawyer who knows the laws surrounding workplace bullying and harassment cases. They can help you understand your rights and the strength of your case.
  5. File a Lawsuit:

Workplace Bullying – FAQ

what is the difference between bullying and harassment? Harassment can take place in public, whereas bullying can take place in private without witnesses. However, each case is different. The LFJ attorneys can help you differentiate which behavior is which if you call for a FREE consultation.

is workplace harassment illegal? All employers are required to take reasonable steps to prevent all forms of harassment in the workplace, especially providing information to their employees on the nature, illegality, and legal consequences.

how to deal with workplace bullying? The best option is to document the behavior and then report it to HR or your employer.

when does abusive conduct constitute illegal workplace harassment? According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, “harassment becomes unlawful when 1) enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or 2) the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.”

can i sue for being singled out at work? If your boss or coworker is cranky and challenging to everyone in the office, they may not be breaking the law. But if someoneis singling you out and attacking you because of a protected characteristic, you may be able to file a lawsuit.

can you sue for bullying at work? You may be able to file a lawsuit if you are being discriminated against for certain protected characteristics covered under California law.

is exclusion a form of bullying? Yes, exclusion can be a form of bullying.

can you sue for workplace violence? You might be able to sue for workplace violence, depending on the nature of the case. The best way to know for sure if you can file a workplace lawsuit is to contact the lawyers at LFJ for a free consultation.

is bullying illegal in the workplace? While anti-bullying laws may not exist, bullying can be improper if it can be classified as discrimination, harassment, or retaliation.

how to handle a workplace bully? No matter how you decide to handle the situation, it’s often best to report the incident and make a record of the behavior.

is gaslighting at work illegal? Gaslighting can be illegal at work if the victim can prove it falls under harassment or discrimination against a legally protected group of people. No specific law classifies gaslighting alone as illegal.


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