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What behavior creates a hostile working environment?

Since most California employees are at-will employees, they have limited rights in the workplace. This means that they have to put up with a variety of behaviors from their employers. While these behaviors may be annoying, rude or frustrating to deal with, employees often have no legal recourse to stop them. However, if the behavior crosses the line and creates a hostile work environment then employees may have legal rights.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, several factors must be met in order for a behavior to create a hostile work environment. First, the behavior must discriminate in some way. This discrimination can be based on a person's race, disability, gender, age or other similar factor. Examples include crude language, unnecessary touching, commenting on a person's physical appearance and talking about sexual activities, to name a few.

Second, the behavior has to continue over time. A hostile work environment is not created by one or two comments, jokes or remarks. The behavior has to be pervasive and continue all the time without investigation or remedial measures by the company.

Third, the behavior has to be severe. The behavior has to be such that it interferes with people's ability to complete their job. This can mean that they cannot actually do their job because of the behavior. Or it can mean that the behavior is stopping the person's career progress.

Finally, the employer had to know about the conditions and fail to act. If a hostile work environment is present in a California workplace, employees must report the behavior. Employers have to have time to investigate the complaints and fix the problem. If an employee has reported the behavior that has created a hostile working environment and the behavior persists, then the employee may have the right to take legal action.

Source: United States Department of Labor, "What Do I Need To Know About...WORKPLACE HARRASSMENT," accessed on Aug. 10, 2014

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