California Employment Law: Understanding what "Harassment" Means
A California employee who plans to file a harassment action against his employer, must understand the key difference between the term "harassment" as ordinarily used in the language as opposed to the claim for "harassment at workplace" which is a term of art.
One of the commonly misunderstood concepts by employee in the employment and wrongful termination law in California is the term "harassment." Many employees believe that they have a harassment claim just because their co-worker or supervisor is being rude to them, doesn't like them, gives them unreasonably challenging assignments or more work than they can handle. California courts, however, have repeatedly held that to have mere rudeness, insults, or bad working relationships that are typical of many workplace do not constitute harassment. The courts have no place or authority to rule on relationship between employees or resolve personal conflicts and animosity at workplace.
The claim for harassment has a specific legal definition. The key elements of the actionable harassment action are (1) being treated differently in a sufficiently "severe and pervasive" way because (2) a victim of a different treatment belongs to one of the protected classes (race, age, ethnic origin, sex, sexual orientation, familial relationship, disability). "Severe and pervasive" means that single or isolated incidents of harassment by a co-workers are probably not actionable unless they are extremely severe (the standard of severity and pervasiveness that a victim of harassment needs to show when the harasser is a supervisor is lower).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Arkady Itkin
San Francisco employment lawyer, representing employees and employers in discrimination, harassment, wrongful termination and other workplace claims.
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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.