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Azadian Law Group
February 17, 2022

Many people working in California have demanding jobs, and the term “hostile work environment” is commonly misunderstood. A hostile work environment manifests when discrimination prevents employees from performing their job duties. Hostile work environment claims most often pertain to sexual harassment in the workplace, but any harassment or discrimination can cause a hostile work environment.

What is a hostile work environment in California?

In California, a “hostile work environment” is any workplace in which an employee is subjected to intimidation, offensive speech, abusive behavior, and other actions that exceed the scope of casual joking. To qualify as a hostile work environment, the conduct the employee experienced must have been severe, intentional, and persistent. In addition, the conduct must have also prevented the employee from performing their job duties or interfered with their ability to do their job.

Can I Sue for a Hostile Work Environment?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the federal agency responsible for enforcing the workplace fairness rules of the United States. The EEOC enforces anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies to ensure equitable work opportunities and treatment in the workplace for all Americans. Unfortunately, many employers continue to violate EEOC rules or allow violations from subordinates to go unchecked.

Unlike most other civil claims, the victim of a hostile work environment cannot directly sue their employer for this type of treatment, even if they incurred damages because of it. Instead, they must first file a claim with the EEOC. The EEOC will appoint investigators to review the claim and determine whether it is valid. If the EEOC finds your claim of a hostile work environment valid, they may initiate legal proceedings against your employer on your behalf or issue you a Notice of Right to Sue that allows you to proceed with a civil action against your employer.

Some of the most common examples of conditions that can create a hostile work environment include:

  • Offensive remarks and jokes that exceed the scope of reasonable workplace humor. For example, jokes made at the expense of an employee’s race, ethnicity, or skin color would likely create a hostile work environment for the targeted employee.
  • Sexual harassment is one of the most commonly cited causes of hostile work environments in the US. For example, if an employee is repeatedly subjected to sexually suggestive commentary, or if their supervisor asks them for sexual favors in exchange for preferential treatment or some other quid pro quo arrangement, this can create a hostile work environment and constitute grounds for a sexual harassment lawsuit.
  • Selective discipline. Some employees may be subjected to persistent mistreatment compared to the treatment other coworkers experience due to their personal qualities. For example, if two employees have similar performance records but one employee receives lower performance scores consistently, it could be due to the supervisor’s discriminatory attitude and may make the targeted employee feel unwelcome in the workplace.


Ultimately, many types of behaviors can create hostile work environments. Employees should know they have the right to raise their concerns to their supervisors and have them take appropriate action. However, some people experience hostility from their supervisors or feel that internal conflict resolution channels are ineffective or inaccessible.

Proving a Hostile Work Environment

One of the most challenging aspects of hostile work environment claims is that it is often very difficult to gather solid evidence that proves the employee faces a hostile work environment. Employers who engage in harassment or discrimination typically take steps to conceal their activities and leave minimal “paper trails” that could ultimately work against them. If you are unsure of how you can prove that you experienced a hostile work environment, it’s vital to consult an experienced employment attorney as soon as possible.

Statements from coworkers, physical evidence from your workplace, and records of correspondence between you, your coworkers, and your supervisor could all come into play in a hostile work environment case. You may also need to gather evidence to substantiate claims for damages. For example, if you were subjected to excessive discriminatory ridicule that damaged your mental health, you could prove that you sought counseling in response to your hostile work environment experiences.

FAQs

Q: What Qualifies as a Hostile Work Environment?

A: If the treatment you experienced at work interfered with your ability to do your job, made you fear for your safety at work, or caused you significant emotional distress, you likely have grounds to file a hostile work environment claim. If you were compelled to resign your position because of the treatment you experienced, you might have grounds to seek compensation for lost income and benefits, among other damages.

Q: How Can I Prove a Hostile Work Environment in California?

A: Every hostile work environment claim is unique, and an experienced employment law attorney is the best resource to consult if you are unsure how to prove your experiences. Physical evidence, emails, and testimony from coworkers and former employees who experienced similar treatment could all help you substantiate your claim.

Q: Is a Hostile Work Environment Illegal in California?

A: It is against California and US law for any employer to allow an employee to face a hostile work environment due to discrimination or harassment. Companies must uphold clear policies that prohibit the behaviors that would generate a hostile work environment. If your employer has failed to uphold anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies in your workplace, they are likely in violation of both state and federal laws.

Q: What Type of Attorney Do I Hire for a Hostile Work Environment Case?

A: If you believe you have cause to file a hostile work environment claim in California, you need to consult an experienced employment law attorney as soon as possible. Employment law is a specific area of law that involves complex state and federal statutes. Therefore, you need an attorney who has experience handling hostile work environment cases in California.

Azadian Law Group, PC, has years of experience representing California clients in a wide range of employment disputes. We understand how distressing and frustrating it can be to face ongoing harassment and discriminatory treatment in the workplace. Our goal is to help you exercise the full scope of your legal rights to stop this behavior and secure compensation for the damages you experienced. To discuss your hostile work environment claim with an experienced legal team, contact Azadian Law Group, PC, today.

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