Hostile Work Environment: Harassment by Co-workers

Many workers intuitively believe that just because their co-workers act toward them in a rude or unfair way or just because they are not friendly to them, this is ground for harassment claim in court. It is important to remember, however, that under California law, a conduct is considered harassment only if it’s “sufficiently severe and pervasive to alter the conditions of the alleged victim’s employment.” This standard is quite high, and isolated incident of rude or inappropriate behavior usually don’t qualify as harassment.

Thus, in one recent case, the Second District court considered a situation where the worker sued her employer for harassment hostile/work environment after several of her co-workers teased her on several occasions in front of the customers and called her a “retard,” and refusing to change her schedule so that she could avoid working during the same shift as those employees who teased her. Young v. Exxon Mobil Corp. The court held that, as a matter of law, the evidence did not establish harassment sufficiently severe and pervasive to be actionable under the FEHA (Fair Employment and Housing Act) to alter the condition of Young’s employment.

Admittedly, it takes a more egregious conduct to constitute harassment. Many companies can be characterized by being stressful workplaces with office politics, “backstabbing,” and other manifestations of people’s dissatisfaction of being forced to work together, but to constitute harassment, these working conditions must clearly be beyond the typical disagreements, and conflicts between co-workers, and a common stress that is brought about by most jobs.

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