Zero Tolerance for Toxicity: A Closer Look at Workplace Harassment Laws

Workplaces are meant to be spaces of collaboration, growth, and mutual respect. Unfortunately, the reality is far away from this, and workplace harassment continues to mar the experience of countless employees across industries.

According to an annual report by the California Department of Human Resources, harassment in the workplace is a prevalent issue, affecting workers of all genders and age groups. The report also added that racial harassment contributes to 16.8% of the total employee complaints.

While California is renowned for its pro-employee and employment laws, harassment remains behind the curtains because most workers are unaware of the laws and their rights.

This article will discuss workplace harassment in detail, including the Cal laws. We will also tell you how to report such unlawful acts and how an employment attorney can help you fight back for your rights.

👉Also read: Standing Up For Your Rights: How To Handle Retaliation At Work

What is Workplace Harassment?

The EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) defines workplace harassment as unwelcome or offensive behavior directed at an employee or a group based on certain protected characteristics, such as race, age, color, religion, gender identity, or more.

In simple words, workplace harassment occurs when an individual or a group of employees feel threatened or get belittled by the behavior and acts of their managers or other people within the organization.

This unlawful behavior not only affects an employee’s work performance but can also affect emotional well-being. And in severe cases, harassment can even lead to physical or mental illness.

Types of Workplace Harassment (with Examples)

Harassment in the workplace can take many forms, and it does not look the same always. Understanding the various ways harassment can manifest can help you identify it quickly when it happens to you or some other employee.

Below we have discussed some of its common types, along with signs of workplace harassment as examples.

Racial Harassment

Discrimination based on an employee’s ancestry, skin color, or country of origin falls under harassment based on race. Perceived attributes such as hair type and teeth size can also be a matter of discriminatory harassment.


  • Racist nicknames
  • Racial slurs or offensive jokes
  • Derogatory comments
  • Posters in the workplace with racial messages
  • Looking at disgust when discussing a topic around race

Disability-based Harassment

In 2022 only, the EEOC received around 25,004 complaints of disability discrimination. Employees with specific disabilities often face judgment in the workplace. For some workers, suffering becomes an everyday scenario because of how their colleagues treat them. Unfortunately, the high occurrence of this type of discrimination sometimes transitions into workplace harassment.


  • Patronizing or degrading comments and harmful teasing.
  • Denying to arrange reasonable accommodations for a disabled person.
  • Isolating the disabled individual from meetings, lunch-hour events, or after-work activities.
  • Ensuring the victim overhears a conversation littered with comments about their disability.

✍️ Note:

Derogatory comments behind the individual’s back that may affect them in the workplace can also qualify as unlawful harassment. If you think your employer treats you differently, which is not evident enough sometimes, talk to an employment attorney to understand if you are being harassed. 

Physical Harassment

Physical harassment can be of any form- either related to race, of sexual nature, or regarding national origin. In general, this type of workplace harassment involves threats, coercion, or bullying that includes physical touches, threats, sexual violence, or gestures.

Employees belonging to gender minorities, especially LGBTQ+ communities, are more likely to experience such harassment. Sometimes, offenders downplay their harassment acts in the form of inappropriate jokes, not causing any visible physical harm; in such situations, it becomes challenging to identify physical harassment. Even without severe physical harm, it might still be considered workplace harassment.


  • Blocking someone’s path.
  • Fake punches to the point of unease.
  • Purposely bumping into an employee to make them feel uncomfortable.
  • Touching someone’s hair, face, or skin inappropriately.

Sexual Harassment

Around 81% of women and 43% of men experience sexual assault or harassment in the workplace. The law considers sexual harassment a heinous crime and an offense not specific to female employees. Employees of any gender, especially those with a different gender identity, can be the victim of harassment.

Sexual harassment occurs when an employee is asked for unwanted sexual advances or sexual favors in return for certain benefits. In addition, physical and verbal abuse of a sexual nature, for instance, asking a worker about their sex history, also qualifies as a form of harassment at work.


  • Making sexual comments, gestures, or asking unwelcome sexual advances from an individual.
  • Offensive remarks relating to someone’s sex.
  • Sharing sexual jokes, stories, or materials of a sexual nature creates an uncomfortable or offensive environment for the victim.
  • Showing or sharing explicit images, videos, or content without consent.

Personal Harassment

Personal harassment is any behavior directed towards a group or individual as unfair, abusive, or demeaning. The perpetrator would do this to show the victim they are unwanted or unwelcome in the workplace.

When the unlawful behavior is consistent or repeated, it qualifies as personal harassment at work. In some instances, even a single incident, such as physical abuse, if severe enough, can constitute harassment.


  • Behavior or offensive conduct that intimidates or threatens a person.
  • Treatment that creates an offensive, hostile work environment for the employees.
  • The perpetrator misuses their power to abuse an employee for exercising their rights.

Psychological Harassment

Often known as mental or emotional bullying, psychological harassment is an attack on an employee’s sanity. Acts or conducts intentionally made to undermine the victim’s dignity, personality, or physical/mental integrity refer to psychological harassment.

This type of workplace harassment often leaves employees feeling ashamed of themselves or fearful of the individual/group instigating the misconduct. Some incidents can even leave the victim with emotional wounds leading to intense depression and stress.


  • Physical behavior with a demeaning message.
  • Providing excessive negative feedback, criticizing every aspect of a person’s work or behavior.
  • Making an individual doubt their own experiences and confusion.
  • Blaming a person for problems or mistakes that are not their fault.

Besides those above, there are other forms of harassment at work, such as religious harassment, verbal harassment, sexual orientation based-harassment, online harassment, third-party harassment, power harassment, gender-based harassment, and more.

No matter the form, workplace harassment is unlawful, and our employment lawyers are here to help you. Contact us today to discuss your harassment case.

California Laws for Harassment in the Workplace

Whether you suspect being a victim of harassment at work or things are just fine, knowing the laws to protect your employment rights is imperative. Below we have mentioned some state employment laws around workplace harassment. These laws govern all employers with 5 or more employees.

California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA)

FEHA is a California state law that prohibits various forms of discrimination and harassment in the workplace. It aims to provide equal employment opportunities and protect individuals from unfair treatment based on characteristics such as age, race, gender, sexual orientation, and more.

The act also prohibits employers from retaliating against individuals who oppose discriminatory or harassing practices, file complaints, or participate in investigations related to such practices.

đź’ˇ An Important Note

Several amendments have been made to the FEHA Act, and it is now easier for California employees to prove workplace harassment. For example, the act protects independent contractors on various aspects of their employment, such as reasonable accommodation during pregnancy. 

Appoint a qualified employment attorney in Los Angeles to represent your harassment case and get justice along with the benefits you were deprived of. 

California Code of Regulations, Title 2, Section 11024

According to the California employment law, employers must develop and distribute a written harassment prevention policy designed to prevent and correct harassment in the workplace. The policy should be clear, concise, and easy to understand.

For example, suppose an organization does not have anti-harassment policies or the employee who gets harassed is unaware that such policies exist (due to the organization’s fault). In that case, the employer might face legal consequences.

California Code Section 1102.5

Also known as the California Whistleblower Protection Act, this section protects employees who engage in certain protected activities, such as disclosing information about unlawful activities or violations of laws at work. Employers are prohibited from harassing, discriminating, or retaliating against an individual or group for practicing their employment rights.

✍️ Note:

There are some exceptions to the protection provided by this section, including disclosures specifically prohibited by law or made with the intent to further a crime.

California Code Section 12940(k)

This act is a specific provision within FEHA that addresses harassment as a form of unlawful employment practice. According to this law, an employer is responsible for preventing and addressing harassment in the workplace.

It is their legal duty to take reasonable steps to prevent harassment, promptly investigate complaints, and take appropriate corrective action if harassment is found to have occurred. The law can also hold an organization liable for the actions of its employees, agents, and supervisors who engage in harassment or misconduct.

California Code Section 12940(j)(4)(C)

This subsection of the FEHA act addresses the issue of employer legal liability for harassment committed by nonemployees, such as customers, clients, or vendors, against an employee.

For example, suppose an independent contractor harasses an employee, and the employer knows about it but still decides not to take action. In that case, the law may hold them liable for the misconduct.

This provision acknowledges that employers cannot always control the behavior of nonemployees who interact with their employees but places a responsibility on employers to address and mitigate harassment promptly when it occurs.

The Silenced No More Act

This act became law on January 1, 2022, and placed several restrictions on confidentiality provisions in specific employment-related settlement agreements related to claims of workplace harassment under FEHA.

According to this law, no employee should ever be silenced from speaking out about the harassing incidents or events they experienced at work. The act also states that employees in California deserve better than being forced into certain agreements that protect perpetrators and continue to harm the victims.

How to Report Harassment: The Legal Steps

Reporting harassment is important; even more crucial is how you proceed with your claim. Below we have explained a detailed process to file your complaint and how to prove that you witnessed workplace harassment.

Record the Incidents

When proving your charges of harassment in the workplace, the proof or burden will be on you. Therefore, it is essential to have a detailed record of each harassment incident, including dates, times, locations, descriptions of the behavior, and any witnesses present. This documentation will be valuable if you decide to take legal action.

Review California and Federal Laws

Familiarize yourself with California’s harassment laws, including the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and the civil rights act, which protects employees from harassment based on various characteristics.

Report to Your Employer

Notify your immediate supervisor, manager, or HR department about the harassment. Follow your company’s internal reporting procedures, which may involve submitting a written complaint or using designated reporting channels.

Follow Company Policies

Adhere to your company’s anti-harassment policy and procedures. Ensure you report the harassment to the appropriate individuals within your organization.

Consult an Employment Attorney

If the harassment persists or your employer doesn’t address the situation, consult an employment law attorney. In California, attorneys can help you understand your legal rights and potential courses of action.

File a Complaint with the DFEH or EEOC

With the help of an employment attorney, you can file a formal harassment complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The agency will further investigate the complaint and may take legal action if necessary.

Statute of Limitations for Filing a Workplace Harassment Claim in California

Depending on the type of workplace harassment you have witnessed, you get 1 to 3 years to file a claim, as per California law. However, employment attorneys suggest filing a claim at the earliest opportunity to prevent further harassment and to get the benefits you deserve.

When you file a claim earlier, you also get ample time to prepare for litigation if you are not convinced by the resolution offered by DFEH or other authorities.

Role of an Employment Attorney in Your Workplace Harassment Case

I can file a complaint with DFEH myself; why do I need an attorney? Having a lawyer by your side offers more benefits than you can imagine. These professionals ensure that your rights are protected per the employment act, your case is evaluated correctly, and you receive appropriate legal guidance and representation.

Here is how an employment attorney can assist you:

  • Legal Consultation and Assessment

An employment attorney provides expert guidance, evaluating the merits of your case and helping you understand the legal framework.

  • Exploring Legal Options

Based on the strengths of your case, the lawyer will explain your legal options, including whether you have grounds to file a complaint with government agencies such as DFEF.

  • Investigation and Gathering Evidence

If necessary, your attorney can help you gather evidence to support your harassment claims, such as documents, emails, witness statements, and other relevant information.

  • Negotiations and Settlements

If your employer wants to settle the claim, your attorney can discuss with them to seek a resolution, such as fair compensation.

  • Litigation Representation

In cases that proceed to court, your attorney represents you, prepares legal documents, and presents your case to a judge or jury.

  • Protection of Rights

Throughout the process, the legal team focuses on upholding your rights, ensuring you receive fair treatment by the employer when working toward a resolution.

👉Also read: Gender Identity Rights: Combating Sex Discrimination at Work Through Legal Advocacy

Turn the Tide Against Workplace Harassment with Hershey Law

Regardless of your role, you deserve to be treated fairly and equally as other employees. However, if this is not happening, and anyone in the company is harassing you based on your protected characteristics or activities, you must take action against it.

Hershey Law is a reputed employment law firm in Los Angeles with award-winning attorneys. Whether you want to file a complaint against the employer or are looking to prosecute, you can back you with our years of experience.

Workplace harassment has no place in your life; call 310-929-2190 today for a free consultation to share the details of your case to get started.

We do not charge you anything until we win, and there is nothing that should stop you from getting justice.