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What constitutes unlawful harassment from a co-worker?

Whether you work for a small business or a large corporation, getting along with co-workers is a bonus. It makes work more enjoyable and even tends to increase productivity.

On the other hand, if a co-worker is making life difficult for you, this can decrease productivity and make you seriously unhappy. Nonetheless, this in itself is not necessarily actionable in law. What constitutes unlawful workplace harassment in California?

A “difficult” co-worker is not necessarily acting unlawfully

Feeling offended by something your co-worker has said or done does not necessarily amount to harassment. In California, unlawful harassment must be discriminatory in nature.  What can you do if an employee has caused difficulties for you in a non-discriminatory way?

As long as you don’t feel that the co-worker is a threat, you might be able to reason with them. Perhaps they are going out of their way to make life difficult for you based on a simple misunderstanding. A calm response can get the two of you talking again and help the issues go away.

When harassment becomes unlawful

In many cases, bullying and harassment should be dealt with internally. However, if you are facing harassment based on a protected characteristic, this is unlawful in California. Your employer has a legal duty to act once you have reported the conduct to Human Resources (HR) or your supervisor.

It’s normal for colleagues to have personal or professional disagreements occasionally. However, there is a line between the regular stresses of the workplace and bullying, discrimination and harassment. If your workplace has become hostile or you have been singled out based on your race, religion, gender, or other protected characteristics, this is unlawful.

Being unhappy at work can take its toll, but you don’t have to face work-related issues alone. Harassment based on protected characteristics must be addressed appropriately by your employer. If they fail in this duty, you can hold them to account. Seek legal guidance to find out what options you have at your disposal.


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