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Types of Harassment
Protected Characteristic

What is Harassment in the Workplace?

The California Constitution and the Fair Employment & Housing Act strive to prevent workplace harassment and hostile work environments.


Workplace harassment occurs when an employee is treated poorly because of their race, gender, nationality, religion, age, disability, or any other protected characteristic listed below.

Forms of Harassment
The Fair Employment & Housing Commission defines “harassment” as:

  • verbal harassment, such as epithets, derogatory comments or slurs (or repeated romantic overtures, sexual comments
    and jokes or prying into one’s personal affairs); or

  • physical harassment, such as unwanted touching, rubbing against someone, assault and physical interference with movement or work; or

  • visual harassment, such as derogatory cartoons, drawings or posters, lewd gestures or leering.

Protected Characteristics

The Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) is responsible for enforcing California state laws that make it illegal to harass an employee or applicant because of the following traits: 

  • Race, color

  • Ancestry, national origin

  • Religion, creed

  • Age (over 40)

  • Disability, mental and physical

  • Sex, gender (including pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding or related medical conditions)

  • Sexual orientation

  • Gender identity, gender expression

  • Medical condition

  • Genetic information

  • Marital status

  • Military and veteran status

Who is liable for harassment in the workplace?

In harassment law, both the company and individual harasser can be held liable.

If a supervisor harasses you, the company is automatically liable.
However, in order to hold the company liable for the supervisor's behavior, the employee must show that the company knew or should have known the harassment was occurring and failed to take action.

Ultimately, the individual harasser can still be held personally liable even if the company didn’t know about the hostile work environment.

Important Note: Your boss might not be violating the law if he or she is treating you poorly. Harassment only becomes illegal when your boss is mistreating you because of one of the protected characteristics listed above.

For example, if your boss makes frequent derogatory comments/jokes about your same-sex marriage, then the mistreatment becomes unlawful.

If your boss is acting condescending towards you because he or she does not like the results from your latest project, no law is being broken. 

The best way to find out if you have a strong case is to contact one of our experienced harassment lawyers right away. 

We know each hostile work environment and client is different. We take the time to understand all aspects of your situation and then provide clear answers and suggestions.


And our consultations are always 100% free.

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