Bartz Law Group

Employee Rights Advocates

How to Fight Back Workplace Bullying in California

Workplace bullying is an issue that affects numerous employees in California. It can take many forms, from verbal abuse to more subtle psychological tactics, impacting an individual’s health and job performance. In this article, we will explore the definition of workplace bullying, its various manifestations, and the specific California laws that may apply.

The Meaning of Workplace Bullying

Workplace bullying in California encompasses a range of behaviors that can create an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment. It typically refers to repeated, health-harming mistreatment of an employee by one or more employees. This mistreatment can include verbal abuse, offensive behaviors, and efforts to sabotage an employee’s work or professional reputation.

In California, although there’s no specific statute that directly addresses workplace bullying, aspects of it can overlap with behaviors covered under existing employment laws. For example, if bullying is based on a protected characteristic like race, gender, or age, it could fall under anti-discrimination laws.

Is workplace bullying illegal in California?

While there’s no specific law that makes general workplace bullying illegal, certain aspects of it can fall under laws that prohibit harassment and discrimination. For instance, if the bullying is related to a protected class under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), such as race, gender, or age, it becomes a legal matter.

The FEHA requires employers to take reasonable steps to prevent and correct wrongful behavior in the workplace. This includes bullying that crosses into harassment or discrimination. If an employer fails to address such issues adequately, they can be held liable.

However, if workplace bullying does not relate to a protected characteristic, it falls into a legal grey area. In these cases, it is not explicitly covered by California employment law, making legal recourse more challenging. Hire a California employment law attorney to help identify if any legal avenues are available, such as a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress or a hostile work environment.

The difference between workplace bullying and harassment

Workplace bullying refers to repeated, health-harming behavior by an individual or group against a colleague. Bullying can include verbal abuse, intimidation, and other forms of mistreatment. In California, general workplace bullying is not illegal unless it intersects with harassment or discrimination based on protected characteristics. Bullying can be subtle and not necessarily tied to a protected class, making it legally ambiguous.

Workplace harassment is illegal under both California and federal law when it relates to a protected characteristic, such as race, sex, age, disability, and others. Harassment includes unwanted conduct that creates a hostile work environment or results in an adverse employment decision (like being fired or demoted). The law is clear in these instances: employers are required to prevent and address harassment in the workplace.

Your Rights If You Experience Bullying at Work

Many companies have policies against workplace bullying. Review your employee handbook or speak with HR to understand these policies. If bullying occurs, report it according to your company’s procedures.

Keep a detailed record of bullying incidents, including dates, times, what was said or done, and any witnesses. Documentation can be crucial, especially if the situation escalates or if legal action becomes necessary.

Often, resolving the issue internally is the first step. This might involve mediation with HR or, in some cases, a direct conversation with the bully if safe and appropriate.

If bullying is related to a protected characteristic or if it escalates to a level that might warrant legal action (such as creating a hostile work environment or leading to wrongful termination), consult with a California employment law attorney. They can advise you on your rights and potential legal steps.

Utilize external resources such as state labor departments or federal agencies like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) if the bullying is linked to discrimination or harassment.

Even though California law may not specifically outlaw general workplace bullying, employees are not without recourse. Knowing your rights and the available resources empowers you to act and protect your well-being in the workplace.