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What is considered bullying at work?
While there is no separate law that would expressly prohibit workplace bullying, employees in California are protected against bullying at work under several state and federal laws. Bullying at work can take many forms, from making offensive jokes to physically abusing a coworker.
When an employee complains about bullying at work, a California court will consider whether the alleged bullying created a hostile work environment for the complainant. California courts consider the severity, pervasiveness, and frequency of the bullying behavior to determine whether it meets the legal definition of a hostile work environment.
Bullying at work may violate California's harassment or discrimination laws when an employee is bullied at work on the basis of a protected category to which the employee belongs.
Bullying at work examples
The actions that may constitute bullying at work can be obvious or subtle. Some of the most common examples of workplace bullying include:
- Physically abusing
- Threatening to physically abuse
- Spreading malicious rumors or gossiping
- Persistently excluding a worker from social events
- Disrupting a worker’s ability to perform their job duties
- Making offensive jokes
- Intruding on a worker's privacy
- Assigning unreasonable or unfavorable duties or workload
- Persistent and unwarranted criticism
- Belittling or humiliating a worker in front of everyone
- Purposefully giving the wrong information
- Unwarranted punishment
- Tampering with a worker’s work equipment or personal belongings in the workplace
In most cases, workplace bullying takes the form of verbal or non-verbal abuse that could hurt the victim physically, emotionally, mentally, or psychologically or make that person feel isolated.
What is legal and what is illegal
In many cases, it is not immediately apparent what is legal and illegal when determining whether someone’s conduct constitutes workplace bullying. Not all forms of bullying are obvious. Often, a victim may not realize that they are being the victim of bullying at work for weeks, months, or even years.
Depending on the circumstances of each case, the following actions may or may not constitute workplace bullying:
- Taking disciplinary actions;
- Setting deadlines;
- Assigning large amounts of work to a particular employee;
- Changing job duties or assignments;
- Implementing health and safety measures;
- Inspecting the workplace; and
- Evaluating employees’ job performance.