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How employers can avoid hostile workplace claims

On Behalf of | May 7, 2024 | Employer Defense

Whether you run a small California business or a large corporation, as an employer, you must maintain a safe environment for your employees. If one or more workers feel unsafe, you might find yourself facing legal problems. The old saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure is applicable to hostile workplace issues.

One of the worst mistakes an employer can make is to disregard even a seemingly minor complaint from an employee regarding a hostile workplace. Instead, it is always best to listen carefully and take whatever action is necessary to resolve the issue. An employee who feels that you have not taken a complaint seriously is more likely to file a hostile workplace claim than a worker who is satisfied that you have done all you can to help.

What constitutes a hostile workplace in California?

A worker might feel that another individual or group is being hostile on the job, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the issue or incident meets the legal definition of workplace hostility in California. There’s a difference between a hostile workplace and an unpleasant work environment. Understanding this difference can help you defend yourself against unmerited claims.

A hostile workplace is typically understood to be bullying, discrimination, aggression or intimidation that occurs repeatedly. Under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), a worker can bring a hostile work environment claim by alleging that:

  • They are a member of a protected class or have a protected characteristic
  • Based on this protected class or characteristic, they were subjected to unwanted comments, acts, physical contact, etc.
  • They viewed the conduct as abusive and it was pervasive enough to impact their working conditions

It’s important to note that in many respects, worker protections are stronger under the FEHA than under federal law. For instance, federal law allows workers to hold their employers responsible for a supervisor who commits harassment or creates a hostile work environment. Under the FEHA, however, both the supervisor and the employer may face liability.

Preventing hostile workplace issues

Keep the following tips in mind to help avoid hostile workplace issues among your staff and employees:

  • Provide proper training, education on company policies and literature regarding hostile workplace prevention on a regular basis.
  • Hold company meetings to educate and remind employees that their behavior in the workplace affects others.
  • File a report if you witness misconduct.
  • Provide support to any worker or group who experiences harassment.

These precautionary measures can go a long way in helping to prevent hostile workplace issues on the job. When managers, supervisors and workers witness you being diligent and proactive to prevent hostility in the workplace and know that you will take swift action to resolve a problem, they may be less likely to bully their coworkers or subordinates.

Discuss potential solutions with the employee

If a worker brings a hostile workplace complaint to your attention, there are several things you can do right away to address the issue. Let the worker know that you take such issues seriously. Investigate the situation. Also, discuss possible solutions with the employee, meaning what he or she needs to feel safe and capable of carrying out his or her duties.

If an employee or group of workers files a hostile workplace claim, it’s best to seek immediate legal support to help you build a strong employer defense. Many issues can find resolve out of court, but it’s always best to be prepared, just in case litigation is necessary.