An employee may find him or herself dreading going to work each day because he or she is being subjected to harassing or abusive treatment in the workplace. It could be sexual harassment or some other abusive treatment. The harassment or abuse could be coming from a supervisor, a co-worker, a customer or even an outside contractor. The employee has heard the term "hostile work environment" and believes that he or she is the victim of a hostile work environment. Is the employee entitled to compensation for the hardship and distress that the hostile work environment is causing?
California employees at American Apparel may have additional protection from unsolicited attention by managers. Shortly after firing its chief executive and founder, the company filed an intent with the Securities and Exchange Commission to overhaul its code of ethics. Its updated policies were soon disclosed containing language clearly curtailing personal relationships initiated by supervisors with subordinates and curbing sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment can take many forms in the workplace. One type, which is commonly referred to as quid pro quo harassment, occurs when a person is offered more favorable employment benefits, such as a promotion and increased pay, in return for sexual favors. However, a work environment where suggestive actions, such as sexual gesturing, leering and unwelcome commentary, is commonplace and permitted is considered hostile under California law. Other behaviors, such as unlawful conduct, such as unwanted touching, repeated uninvited social invitations and impeding a person's free movement, may be considered sexual harassment as well. Sexual harassment in the workplace can also occur when the harasser and the person being harassed are of the same gender.
On Nov. 18, a federal judge upheld a jury's $185 million punitive award to a former AutoZone store manager for pregnancy bias, discrimination and retaliation she experienced at one of the retailer's San Diego locations. The judge rejected AutoZone Stores Inc.'s assertion that the punitive award could not stand because the plaintiff did not link a specific AutoZone director, officer or managing agent to her discrimination claims, ruling that the retailer's legal department qualifies as an agent under California law.
Under California law, harassment in the workplace is considered a type of discrimination. When an employer engages in harassment that is based on sex, race, color, religion, age or disability, they may be found to be in violation of the Civil Rights Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act or the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In California, an employer may be engaging in disability discrimination by treating a worker with a disability unfairly. The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act list all disabilities that are covered. However, only certain employers are subject to these laws, and the number of an employees a business has generally determines if a particular employer is covered.
On Aug. 15, another woman filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against former San Diego Mayor Bob Filner who resigned in August 2013 after several other women accused him of sexually harassing them. Following his resignation, the man pleaded guilty to one felony and two misdemeanor charges arising from the allegations and received a 90-day house arrest sentence. In February, the City of San Diego also settled a claim brought by a former communications director for $250,000.
California employees may be interested in the story of one woman who is taking her former employer to court over allegations of sexual harassment. The woman joins others in her industry who have recently alleged similar treatment at the hands of their employers.
Being a police officer in California is a challenging career under any set of circumstances. Police must depend on the support of their fellow officers in order to do their jobs safely and effectively. But should an officer be subjected to a hostile work environment, his or her life and career could become very painful to manage.