“Can I Sue for California Workplace Bullying?”

Workplace bullying is understood to be repeated, harmful mistreatment of one or more employees (targets) which can include conduct that is:

  • Threatening
  • Humiliating
  • Intimidating
  • Interfering with work. California workplace bully

The Workplace Bullying Institute explains that examples can include work sabotage, isolation, harm to reputation, demeaning behavior, and abusive supervision. The think tank estimates 60 million Americans are impacted by workplace bullying, with anywhere from 19-44 percent having been directly bullied. Nearly 1 in 5 have witnessed bullying behavior on the job. Of those who are targets, nearly 30 percent say nothing. Only 17 percent report seeking formal resolution – with the failure to report likely stemming from employers’ lack of responsiveness, real or perceived.

But what are your legal options? As our Riverside employment attorneys can explain, California does not have an anti-workplace bullying law in place, unfortunately. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’re out of luck.

Targets of workplace bullying may have grounds for legal action in California if the conduct violates the state’s workplace harassment or discrimination laws, such as those set forth in the California Fair Employment Act (FEHA). Workplace bullying violates the law when it is based on a protected category to which a victim belongs.

Examples of workplace bullying that violate California harassment and discrimination laws would be those that are predicated on the basis of the target’s:

  • Race.
  • Religion.
  • Ethnicity.
  • Gender.
  • Age (over 40).
  • National origin.
  • Medical condition or genetic information.
  • Sexual orientation.
  • Disability.
  • Military/veteran status.

So even though California has no statute that allows employees to sue their employer “bullying,” they can take action if it’s based on any of these protected statuses, particularly if the bullying is intense, persistent, and has adverse impacts to the person’s employment and physical/mental/emotional health.

In 2014, California enacted AB 2053, which requires companies with 50 or more employees to provide at least two hours of sexual harassment training to supervisors every 2 years. Included in that is training on how to prevent abusive conduct, which is another name for workplace bullying.

But again, it’s only when workplace harassment is based on one of those protected categories that it is against the law.

For example, let’s say Michelle is the only female employee at a construction company. Her male colleagues regularly disparage her with rude remarks about her looks and mock her ability to do her job. She is not invited to social activities where all other colleagues are welcome. Her co-workers regularly use derogatory language to describe women. This type of workplace bullying could in fact be a hostile work environment harassment on the basis of her gender.

Those who have been targeted by this type of harassment can file complaints with the state’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing. An employment lawsuit could also be on the table, so it’s important to consult with an experienced employment attorney at the outset, when you’re first considering your options. Workplace discrimination and harassment claims can be pursued against the person who is doing the harassing, as well as employers who fail to respond appropriately to reports of discrimination and harassment.

If complaints made to your boss concerning harassment at work lead to you being fired, you may have a claim for wrongful termination.

Contact the employment attorneys at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Newport Beach, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 714-937-2020.

Additional Resources:

Arbitrators’ Review of Bullying in the Workplace, 2021, By Stacy A. Hickox* & Michelle Kaminski**,  ABA Journal of Labor & Employment Law

More Blog Entries:

California Supreme Court Clarifies Worker Retaliation Lawsuit Proof Burden, Feb. 28, 2022, Riverside, California Employment Attorney Blog

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