My boss yells at me all the time. Do I have a case?
While getting yelled at by an employer or supervisor all day long may be unpleasant, such behavior does not necessarily provide grounds for a harassment lawsuit unless it falls under a legally-defined hostile work environment. A “hostile work environment” is a legal term that refers to verbal or physical harassment in the workplace against certain protected classes of people.
A lawsuit may be merited if the employer’s negative treatment of a worker is based on the employee’s membership of a protected class. Under California law, people are in protected classes on the basis of:
- Race or Color
- Religious Creed
- National Origin or Ancestry
- Physical Disability, Mental Disability or Medical Condition
- Marital Status
- Sex / Gender
- Sexual Orientation
- Gender Identity or Gender Expression
- Military or Veteran Status
- Genetic Information
Even if the employee is not an actual member of one of these classes, they may have a legal case if the harasser mistakenly believes they are — for instance, a Hindu or Sikh who suffers mistaken discrimination as Muslim, or a heterosexual who is subject to gay-related slurs.
A work environment can be considered hostile if the conduct is so severe and pervasive that a reasonable person would have to agree the hostility disrupts the victim’s employment. For example, it may interfere with the employee’s career progress or cause emotional distress.
Under California law, the employer should know or be aware of the conduct. The requirement is met if the employer was informed of the harassment, or it was committed by or in the presence of a supervisor or person with authority. Once the employer is aware of the harassment, they may be legally liable if immediate and appropriate corrective action is not taken.
If your job performance suffers or you fear going to work because of offensive behavior at the workplace related to your actual or perceived membership of a protected class, McCormack & Erlich has an extensive background helping individuals experiencing a hostile work environment.