What to Know

Bullying at Work - California

Bullying at Work.  We represent employees in Los Angeles and everywhere else in California.

If you believe you are a victim of workplace bullying, call us at 888-762-0297 to discuss your situation. We are here to help.

The initial consultation with an attorney is free.

Our law firm represents clients in Los Angeles and elsewhere in California.

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 different forms, from making offensive jokes to physically abusing a coworker.

When an employee complains about bullying at work, a California court will consider whether or not 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 or not 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 or not 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.

Often, an employee who believes that they were bullied at work needs to speak with an experienced attorney to discuss their particular situation and determine if they have been a victim of workplace bullying.

Direct bullying vs. indirect bullying

Workplace bullying can be divided into two types: direct and indirect.

Direct bullying. As its name implies, direct bullying involves directly hurting someone physically, emotionally, psychologically, or mentally. Examples of direct bullying include humiliating a worker in front of everyone and physically abusing a worker in the workplace.

Indirect bullying, on the other hand, occurs when the bully undermines a victim’s reputation or damages the victim’s relationships with peers or self-esteem through rumors, gossiping, emails, or other methods. A common example of indirect bullying is excluding someone from a social event, activity, conversation, or group setting.

How bullying at work affects your daily life

Workplace bullying can have a negative effect on the worker’s health and daily life. Depending on the severity and pervasiveness of the bullying, a bullied victim may experience the following:

  • Diminished self-esteem
  • Sleep problems
  • Mood swings
  • Low morale
  • Frustration
  • Helplessness
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Low productivity
  • Concentration difficulties

These and many other effects of bullying can take a toll on the worker’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being and affect their performance at work.

Bullying at work: Federal Laws

The U.S. federal government has not passed anti-bullying legislation that would explicitly address the issue of workplace bullying. While there is no separate law to prohibit bullying at work, it does not mean that workplace bullying is not illegal.

A bullied worker can seek legal remedies if bullying manifests itself in any of the following forms:

  • Harassment
  • Discrimination
  • Retaliation
  • Hostile work environment
  • Stalking
  • Assault or battery

Bullying at work: California laws

In California, there is no statute that would expressly prohibit “workplace bullying.” Rather, bullied workers may have a right to compensation if the bullying crosses the line and turns into discrimination, harassment, or retaliation.

Thus, employees in Los Angeles and elsewhere in California may be able to sue the perpetrator and/or their employer for bullying at work if the behavior constitutes harassment, discriminatory or retaliatory conduct.

Bullying at work: What can you do?

If you have become a victim of workplace bullying, it is critical to document and report all incidents of bullying to your company’s human resources (HR) department.

If your employer fails to correct the issue after filing your report, contact an experienced employment law attorney to discuss your options, including filing a complaint with California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) or a lawsuit to seek legal remedies and compensation.

What documentation is needed to prove it

If you have been bullied at work, it is important to properly document the incidents of bullying by:

Identifying witnesses and obtaining witness statements. If anyone, including your coworkers, witnessed the bullying, their statements would play a pivotal role in helping you seek legal remedies.

Documenting everything. Keep a journal or a log of events documenting the dates and times of bullying as well as the people involved in those incidents.

If any pictures or correspondence (emails, letters, text messages, etc.) are available, keep them to strengthen your case.

Statute of limitations to file a claim

Under California law, depending upon the kind of bullying, you have three years from the date of the last incident to file a complaint with the DFEH if the alleged bullying takes the form of harassment, discrimination, or retaliation.

Once you receive a right-to-sue letter from the DFEH, you have an additional year to file a civil lawsuit against the perpetrator.

Penalties available

Any California employer found liable for harassment, discrimination, or retaliation can face harsh penalties, including:

  • Back and front pay
  • Legal costs, including attorney’s fees
  • Compensatory damages
  • Punitive damages and
  • Other damages and losses suffered by the victim of workplace bullying

What compensation to expect for bullying at work

The damages that you could recover if you can prove that you were a victim of bullying at work that took the form of harassment, discrimination, or retaliation include but are not limited to:

  • Compensation damages for your medical expenses and emotional distress
  • Recovery of lost wages, employment opportunities, and benefits
  • Punitive damages if the employer acted maliciously or willfully

You need to consult with an attorney to discuss your particular situation and determine what compensation to expect for workplace bullying in your specific case.

For more information

For further information or to discuss your case, call us at 888-762-0297 and ask to speak with an attorney who handles bullying at work cases.

When we know your situation better, we can tell you if you have a valid claim against your employer for workplace bullying and what compensation you can realistically expect.

The initial consultation is free.

We take all cases on contingency and advance all costs - which we only are reimbursed if we successfully recover on your behalf.

We represent clients in Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego, San Bernardino, Santa Clara, San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland, Orange County, and Northern and Southern California.

Last updated on October 9, 2021.

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