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Is Your Boss Abusive? Fight Back Against Hostile Work Environments


Under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) all workers are legally protected from workplace abuse, discrimination, harassment, and wrongful termination. In other words, if your boss is abusive and/or your working conditions are horrible, you have the legal right to fight back. Depending on the circumstances, a lawsuit could punish your harasser with punitive charges. A lawsuit may also result in monetary compensation for emotional distress or lost wages (including attorneys’ fees).

What Makes a Hostile Work Environment? Although frequently linked to workplace sexual harassment a hostile work environment is really about any kind of pervasive or severe harassment. Let’s break that down into two parts: “pervasive or severe” and “harassment.” The latter essentially refers to any inappropriate behavior or bullying on the basis of a worker’s • Sex, • Sexual Orientation, • Gender, • Gender Expression, • Age, • Religion, • Disability, • Marital Status, or • Race/Ethnicity. Harassment could be physically threatening (like assault) or emotionally threatening (like unwanted sexual comments or racial slurs). And workplace harassment can be committed by anyone including managers, clients, contractors, customers, and coworkers.

NOTE: Any threat or assault to your personal safety is prohibited by law. Contact the police immediately. You do not need to prove a hostile workplace environment.

To be considered a “hostile work environment” harassment must be either pervasive or severe. • Pervasive harassment means unrelenting and ongoing harassment to the point of distracting you or preventing you from doing your job. The harassment must be present or obvious enough that other coworkers also find the work atmosphere threatening or abusive. • Severe harassment usually refers to a single instance of harassment that was extremely threatening or damaging (like a physical fight or rape). And again, if you’ve been assaulted or feel that your life is in immediate danger call the police right away.

How Do You Prove a Hostile Work Environment? Unfortunately, not every inappropriate gesture or mean remark legally qualifies as a hostile work environment. So in order to effectively prove a hostile work environment, you’re going to need to provide as much information as possible about the exact nature of harassment you are experiencing.

Be prepared to answer questions like: • Was the harassment based on your sex, gender, age, religion, or race? • Who was the harasser? • How severe was the workplace harassment? • Did you feel physically threatened or unsafe? • How frequently did the harassment occur? • Did any other people (colleagues, coworkers, passersby, or supervisors) witness the harassment? • Would other people also find the behavior to be harassing? • Did the harassment affect the way you performed at work? • Did you report the harassment to your employer?

To best answer these questions, you must gather evidence and witnesses. Keep a detailed record of everything that took place. Write down the date and time you were harassed, what was said, and what action (if any) you took. Also keep track of what your employer did or did not do to help the situation. Definitely report the inappropriate behavior if possible. If the workplace harassment continues, talk to coworkers and gather a list of people who have also experienced the same harassment or who have witnessed it happening.

Should You Get an Attorney? When all else fails, seek legal help ASAP. Not all harassment or abusive behavior may be easily categorized as a hostile work environment. But no harassment or abusive behavior should be tolerated.

If you’re suffering in a hostile work environment, don’t hesitate to contact a workers’ compensation attorney. Workplace harassment is unfortunately ripe with “grey areas.” It’s not always clear whether certain actions or comments violate the law and which do not. But we recognize that even if harassment is not illegal, it can still fester and contribute to a toxic work environment.

Because legal background or no, any employee being harassed or threatened in their workplace is entitled to legal support. And Barsoum Law is committed to help. We offer a personal focus and individualized care that large corporate firms do not. Our multilingual, multicultural team is dedicated to making sure you obtain the compensation you deserve.

If you have suffered a work-related injury or illness, Barsoum Law can and will help. We have represented thousands of injured workers throughout California the past 25 years.


Contact us today at 877-299-1555 or info@barsoumlaw.com to schedule a free consultation with a member of our team.

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