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Is All Workplace Harassment Illegal?


While experiencing harassment from coworkers or a supervisor is always unpleasant, it doesn’t always violate an employee’s rights. As unfortunate as it may be, it’s possible to experience mistreatment from your coworkers and lack grounds for a workplace harassment or retaliation claim.

What Is Illegal Workplace Harassment?

Unlawful harassment in the workplace occurs when someone experiences mistreatment from their coworkers or employer because of their real or perceived association with a protected class. A protected class is a characteristic defined by federal and state law and can’t be used as the basis for any mistreatment or employment-related decisions at work.

California recognizes the following protected classes:

  • Age (40 or older)
  • Race (including natural hair)
  • Skin Color
  • National Origin/Ancestry
  • Religion
  • Gender (expression and identity)
  • Sex (including pregnancy and childbirth)
  • Sexual orientation
  • Disability
  • HIV/AIDS Status
  • Marital Status
  • Veteran Status

Unless an employee’s harassment involves one of these factors, it’s possible that the abuse and mistreatment they’re experiencing at work is otherwise legal. Still, employees experiencing any kind of harassment may wish to consult with an employment law attorney to help them assess if the mistreatment they’re experiencing may be illegal.

What Is an Example of Unlawful Workplace Harassment?

An employee may have a workplace harassment claim if they are made fun of for wearing a hijab, kufi, yarmulke, or a cross-shaped necklace. This is because the aforementioned items signify someone’s religious beliefs and/or ancestry – both of which are protected classes.

Other attire, however, may not present the same associations and thus may not provide sufficient grounds for a workplace harassment claim. An employee who wears a particular brand of clothing may be mocked or harassed by their coworkers for wearing that brand because one’s choice of clothing brands isn’t a protected characteristic.

What Do I Do If I’m Being Harassed at Work?

If you are being harassed at work, the first thing you should do is report the behavior to your supervisor or your company’s human resources representative. At this point, your company is obligated to investigate and intervene if it believes your rights at work were violated.

Should your situation at work not improve, the next step is to consult with an experienced employment law attorney. Whether you are confident you have an unlawful harassment claim or not, experienced legal counsel can help you assess your claim and take any available and necessary legal action to assert your rights.

Contact K2 Employment Law for Help

At K2 Employment Law, we understand how difficult it is to make a workplace harassment claim. That's why we're here to help you every step of the way.

Our experienced and knowledgeable team of attorneys can provide you with the necessary guidance, support, and legal advice throughout your case. We know that no two cases are alike, so we’ll strive to work with you to develop a customized strategy tailored to your individual needs. We can also provide ongoing communication and updates regarding the progress of your case, so you know exactly what's going on.

Learn more about our services during a free initial consultation. Contact K2 Employment Law online to learn more.