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Definition of hostile work environment
A hostile work environment is one in which harassment prevents a worker from doing their job or is so severe or pervasive that it amounts to abuse.
To be considered a hostile work environment, the perpetrator's conduct must meet the following legal requirements:
• The perpetrator engaged in discriminatory conduct, workplace bullying, or sexual harassment;
• The conduct created a hostile or abusive work environment;
• The perpetrator’s behavior offended, humiliated, or distressed the victim;
• The conduct can be described as "pervasive" or “severe” (it was not an isolated incident);
• The inappropriate behavior affected the victim's ability to perform their job or affected their emotional tranquility in the workplace; and
• The employer failed to correct or address the issue or knew about the hostile work environment but failed to take appropriate action to address the issue.
Examples of a hostile work environment
The perpetrator's conduct must be severe and pervasive to meet the legal definition of a hostile work environment. Common examples of behavior that may constitute a hostile work environment include:
• Using offensive or demeaning language
• Making derogatory comments, or generalizations related to a protected characteristic such as race or sex
• Using suggestive language
• Making unsolicited sexual advances
• Discussing sexual activities at work
• Telling sexually suggestive or inappropriate jokes
• Engaging in acts of unwelcome or inappropriate touching
• Using slurs
• Interfering with an employee’s job performance
• Sabotaging an employee's career
There is no federal law that would explicitly address a hostile work environment. Rather, there are several laws that prohibit hostile work environments, including:
•Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
• Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)
• Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
• Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA)
Under federal law, a hostile work environment can be created due to harassment, retaliation, or discrimination on the basis of protected characteristics, including race, sex, color, national origin, and religion.
California law recognizes three situations that may create a hostile workplace environment: