Warning Signs of Harassment in the Workplace

Even with strict employment laws, workplace harassment exists throughout all types of industries in California. From outright discrimination to discreet bullying, employees might experience so much harassment that it creates a hostile work environment for them.

As per the data gathered by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), in the 2021 fiscal year, there were 3,865 California harassment charges brought forward. However, more than half of the harassment victims do not even file complaints, so the actual instances of workplace harassment are much higher than recorded.

Whether you are new to the workplace or a long-time employee, you may experience some type of workplace harassment. This article will explain different types of workplace harassment and list the warning signs that you should not ignore.

Do you suspect harassment occurred at your workplace and want to file a harassment claim? Contact Hershey Law for a free consultation with an experienced attorney who has handled numerous harassment cases and can help you through the process.

What Is Workplace Harassment? What Does It Constitute?

As per the EEOC, workplace harassment occurs when an employee or group of employees are belittled or threatened by anyone at the workplace. It is often unwelcome conduct based on a legally protected characteristic, such as race, color, religion, sex (including sexual orientation, gender identity, or pregnancy), national origin, older age, disability, or genetic information.

Several terms define harassment in the workplace, such as bullying, mobbing, and even aggression. Harassment in the workplace can include slurs, offensive jokes, epithets, physical abuse, intimidation, mockery, put-downs, and other things that can create a hostile work environment for the victim.

The harassment can occur in a range of conditions:

  • The harasser can be anyone, including the worker’s employer, manager, supervisor, co-worker, client, or even a non-employee.
  • The victim does not have to be the person harassed; they can be anyone who’s affected by the offensive conduct.
  • Workplace harassment is not limited to economic injuries to the victim; it also impacts mental and physical well-being.

Types of Workplace Harassment

There are different types of harassment in the workplace and so many interpretations that even the most diligent employees can miss the signs. Every employee must thoroughly understand workplace harassment in order to equip themselves with everything they need to prevent it.

Below we have explained the different types of harassment.

Discriminatory Harassment

Typically, all types of workplace harassment are discriminatory in nature. But unlike physical assault and verbal harassment, discriminatory harassment is defined by the intentions behind it and how the offender carries it out.

Discriminatory harassment can be based on anything, such as how the employee looks or does their job. It may make the victim feel anxious at the workplace and may also create a hostile working environment.

Discriminatory harassment further classifies into the following types:

Gender Discrimination

Discrimination toward an employee based on their gender identity is unlawful and unethical. Negative gender stereotypes about how women and men should act or look are often the center of harassment.

Some common examples of gender harassment in the workplace include:

  • A male worker faces harassment from co-workers for having what is perceived as a female’s job.
  • A male co-worker displays materials (posters, comics) degrading to women.
  • A female employee gets criticized for having a senior role.

Racial Harassment 

Employees may experience racial harassment in the workplace because of their skin color, hair, origin, country, or ancestry. Even perceived attributes of a particular community (accents, hair texture, features, beliefs, clothing, or customs) may be the reason for harassment.

This type of workplace harassment often includes racial slurs, jokes, degrading comments, disgust, and intolerance of differences.

Disability-based Harassment 

Disability-based harassment is directed towards individuals with any type of disability or who are acquainted with someone with any type of disability. An employee may also experience harassment upon using disability services, such as worker’s compensation or a leave program.

This type of harassment may come in the form of patronizing comments, harmful teasing, isolation, or refusals to make reasonable accommodations.

Age-based Harassment 

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects workers aged 40 or above to promote employment for older people and reduce age-based workplace harassment. An employee experiencing age-based harassment might be insulted, teased, left out of meetings or activities, and unfairly criticized because of their age.

This harassment can be so bad it wrongfully pushes an individual into early retirement.

Power Harassment

Power harassment is one of the most common types of harassment in the workplace. It is characterized by a power disparity between the offender (harasser) and the victim (harassed). The offender might be a manager or supervisor who uses their power to bully or harass an employee who is lower on the organization’s hierarchy.

A few examples:

  • Assigning demeaning tasks far below the worker’s ability or outside their job description.
  • Issuing excessive demands that the worker cannot possibly meet.
  • Intruding into the worker’s personal life.

Personal Harassment

Personal harassment in the workplace is not based on protected classes such as age, gender, and religion so most employees do not consider it harassment. Inappropriate comments, offensive jokes, critical remarks, and personal humiliation are all examples of personal harassment in the workplace.

Simple bullying might not fall under personal harassment, but there is a very thin line between bullying and harassment.

Do you suspect personal harassment at the workplace by your manager or a coworker? Contact Hershey Law and we’ll help you evaluate if you are a victim of workplace harassment. Call us at (310) 929-2190 for more information.

Physical Harassment

The stringent employment laws in California have helped reduce physical harassment in the workplace, but some employees still experience unwanted touching or the threat of it. Physical harassment, often known as workplace violence, refers to a type of harassment that involves physical threats or attacks.

In extreme cases, the harassment may be considered assault.

Here are some examples of physical harassment in the workplace:

  • Unwanted physical contact, such as poking, shoving, hitting, and kicking
  • Threatening behavior
  • Destroying personal property
  • Direct threats to inflict harm


Though not direct, retaliation is a subtle form of workplace harassment that is often overlooked. Retaliation occurs when an employee files a formal complaint against the employer for unethical practices, such as workplace discrimination or withholding employment benefits, and is then punished in some way.

The employer or supervisor harasses the employee with the intent to take revenge. Here’s what retaliation in the workplace looks like:

  • An employee files a complaint against the supervisor.
  • The supervisor finds out about the complaint and the employee who made it.
  • The supervisor harasses the employee to get revenge or to pressure them into revoking the complaint.

Retaliation in the workplace is an unethical practice and you should take legal action against it. Contact Hershey Law to hire the best employment lawyers in Los Angeles.

Psychological Harassment

Unlike physical harassment, psychological harassment does not harm an employee physically, but it has a severe impact on the worker’s mental well-being. Victims of this type of workplace harassment often feel belittled and put down professionally and personally.

This damage to an employee’s well-being can create a domino effect, impacting their social, physical, and professional life. Some common examples of psychological harassment in the workplace are:

  • Ignoring or isolating the victim.
  • Challenging or opposing everything the victim says.
  • Trivializing or belittling the victim’s thoughts and ideas.

Sexual Harassment or Harassment Based on Someone’s Sexual Orientation

Sexual harassment generally includes unwanted sexual behavior, requested sexual favors, unwanted sexual advances, and inappropriate sexual conduct. Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence and typically, female employees are most often the target. It can also be commenting, teasing, joking, or inappropriate questioning about a person’s sexual orientation.

Sexual harassment in the workplace is a form of unlawful discrimination, and the California courts take it seriously.

The harasser can sexually harass the victim in multiple ways, such as sharing sexual photos and sexual comments, asking sexual questions, and making physical passes.

Do you think anyone in the office has sexually harassed you and wants to take action against them? Our law firm has the best harassment attorneys in Los Angeles. At Hershey Law, our team of professional lawyers will help you file and build a case to fight back against sexual harassment.


With everything going digital, harassment in the workplace has also found its way to cyberspace. Some employees get harassed by their superiors digitally, such as on private messenger, social media, and emails.

Cyberbullying can severely impact the victim’s mind and may also impact their social and physical life. It might consist of co-workers spreading lies about certain employees or a superior belittling their work in a group chat.

Proving this type of workplace harassment is difficult because there are no explicit federal laws in place, especially for adults. However, the Department of Justice has noted that legal action is possible by prosecuting online misbehavior under California law.

Verbal Harassment

Verbal harassment can be a result of personal conflicts in the workplace that have escalated beyond what’s ethical and have become serious. Unlike harassment based on a protected class, such as gender, religious belief, or age, this is often not unlawful.

Verbal harassment can occur when a supervisor or anyone else in the workplace remains consistently unpleasant and mean. This type of harassment, when it continues for a long time, can damage the victim’s self-respect and may begin to affect other areas of their life.

Some examples of verbal harassment are cursing or insulting the victim privately or publicly and threatening or yelling at them for no reason.

» More: An Overview of California Labor and Employment Laws

Warning Signs of Workplace Harassment

Now that you know about most types of workplace harassment, it is also essential to learn the warning signs. Seeing warning signs of harassing conduct indicates that you might need to take legal action in order to have a healthy environment at your workplace.

Here are some of the signs to look out for:

It’s Disrupting Your Work

If a coworker’s behavior is so bad that it’s interfering with your work, it’s likely harassment. For example, your supervisor is bullying you every day to the point where you are unable to concentrate on work. Similarly, if you are afraid to pursue advancement in your career because of intimidating comments from your boss or someone else, it is a warning sign of harassment.

You Feel It’s a Toxic Work Environment

A toxic work environment does not necessarily have to be outright hostile. Rather, a toxic workplace means when you witness gossip, subtle bullying, sly insults, or other telltale signs of misconduct.

Toxic behavior can quickly slide into outwardly hostile behavior, making it difficult to focus on work. As per EEOC, no employee should have to endure a toxic work environment and all employees in California deserve respect.

If you feel that the workplace has become toxic and it is taking a toll on your professional as well as personal life, it is a warning sign of workplace harassment.

Toxic Behavior Has Become Consistent

Most employees have a bad day here or there and might be rude or lash out. However, if the behavior has become consistent and you are bombarded with unpleasant comments from a boss or coworker every day, it is a sign of workplace harassment.

There are subtle forms of workplace harassment and many employees choose to ignore it to some extent. However, as per state and federal law, inappropriate behavior at the workplace is unlawful and you can seek legal help from a harassment attorney to fight back.

Things Have Gotten Aggressive

Workplace harassment, in its subtle form, can go unnoticed by employees. However, in the long run, ignoring things can escalate the toxic behavior until it turns aggressive.

Aggression can look like spiteful comments, verbal attacks, cruelty, and physical intimidation. There is a thin line between aggression and standard bullying, but both can create a hostile work environment for an employee and should be stopped.

You Feel Stuck in the Workplace

In the worst-case scenario, the victim may feel stuck in their employment and unable to escape it. For instance, a supervisor might belittle you and your skills to the point that you believe you won’t be able to find another role.

This behavior is a red flag that you are a victim of workplace harassment. You should contact a professional harassment lawyer from a respected law firm to file a complaint.

You Are Being Ignored, Excluded, or Isolated

If you feel you are being ignored, excluded, or isolated because you are a member of a protected class, this could be a sign of workplace harassment. Purposely avoiding or ignoring someone’s contribution to a team or making them a target based on some characteristic indicates harassment in the workplace.


Minimizing means dismissing an employee’s work without reason or significant issues. Furthermore, refusing to address the rejection of an employee’s work is known as minimizing. This could signify workplace harassment if you experience it often.

If you think your manager or supervisor rejects or tears down your work for no reason or because of a protected characteristic, such as your age, race, gender, or religion, you can take legal action.

Role Manipulation and Inconsistency

If your employer is changing your duties or responsibilities without any justification or changing guidelines for a task to make it more difficult, it could be workplace harassment. Determining if the role manipulation is workplace harassment can be difficult, so you should speak to a lawyer to evaluate the circumstances.

Steps You Should Take to Deal with Workplace Harassment

Workplace harassment can take a toll on your mental and physical well-being and affect your professional life. Every employee in California needs to know how to deal with workplace harassment.

Here are the steps you should take:

Evaluate the Circumstances – You should first evaluate the circumstances to determine if you are a victim of workplace harassment. For example, if your employer consistently rejects your work for no reason, it could be workplace harassment.

Are you unsure about whether you are a victim of workplace harassment? Call Hershey Law at (310) 929-2190. Our harassment lawyers will help you determine if you are a victim and can begin the legal process to take action against it.

Speak to HR – If your place of employment has a human resources department, you should contact them to report workplace harassment. If they do not respond or ignore your complaint, you should seek outside legal counsel.

Note Everything – Proving workplace harassment, especially in its subtle form, is difficult. Therefore, you should note everything to gather evidence. You can save texts, emails, and memos showing signs of harassment. However, in California, you cannot record someone’s conversation without their consent, so you should keep this in mind when gathering evidence.

You can take written notes of conversations or ask witnesses to write down their accounts. For example, you can highlight the day on your calendar when your boss called you into their office and harassed you for no reason.

Speak to a Harassment Lawyer – If you have decided to officially seek legal recourse, a harassment lawyer will help. They can take care of everything, including filing a complaint, gathering evidence, building a case, negotiating with the other side, and arguing in court, if need be.

Harassment can cause emotional and financial damages, and you can claim fair compensation with the help of your legal team.

Hire the Best Harassment Lawyers in Los Angeles – Hershey Law

The California Fair Employment & Housing Act (FEHA) protects employees from harassment based on protected categories. This includes verbal and physical harassment, quid pro quo harassment, hostile work environment harassment, sexual harassment, and more. No matter which organization you work for or how powerful your supervisors are, our team of dedicated lawyers will fight to get you the justice you deserve.

It is essential for every worker to take a stand against workplace harassment before it creates a permanently hostile work environment. If you are a victim of harassment in the workplace or you suspect you are, contact Hershey Law today.

We are a team of passionate harassment lawyers based in Los Angeles and Orange County that will fight for your rights. We believe in establishing a strong attorney-client relationship and only settle when we achieve the best outcome for you. Call us at (310) 929-2190 or contact us online for a free initial consultation.