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Hostile work environments and CA anti-discrimination law

In California, the Fair Employment and Housing Act prohibits employers from discriminating against workers based on certain personal characteristics, such as race, gender or age.

The FEHA makes it illegal for employers to use these types of personal traits as a basis for hiring and firing decisions, as well as for promotions, training opportunities, compensation, etc. The FEHA also protects workers from targeted harassment, which may create a hostile work environment.

What classes of workers does the FEHA protect?

In addition to race and sex, the FEHA protects employees from workplace harassment based on:

  • Gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation
  • Age (40 and over)
  • National origin or ancestry
  • Military or veteran status
  • Religious beliefs

Additionally, employees have protection from harassment based on genetic information, pregnancy status and medical conditions, including mental or physical disabilities.

When does a work environment become hostile?

When harassing behavior is severe or ongoing, it can easily create a work environment that is both personally and professionally hostile. Workers who belong to a FEHA-protected class may be able to bring a discrimination claim if their employer’s behavior impacts their job performance or chances for career advancement.

Employees may also have a discrimination claim if their employer knew about hostile behavior on the part of a supervisor, coworker or other business associate but failed to investigate and address the issue.

Workers facing harassment should be sure to report abusive behavior early, either by informing their supervisor or human resources department, or by using the company’s internal complaint process. It may be a good idea to keep a written record of incidents of harassment as well as the employer’s response to reports of discriminatory abuse. If an employer fails to act, a lawsuit may be necessary, both to protect the employee’s job and to obtain monetary compensation.


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