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Can You Sue Employer for Harassment While Working From Home

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The COVID-19 pandemic changed our understanding of the workplace, potentially irreversibly. Many companies that moved to remote work during the pandemic have decided to keep employees on remote work part-time or full-time, or at least give employees the option to do so. Working remotely removes much of the hassle of working in an office or other workplace, including eliminating commute time and cutting down on distractions. Remote working has not solved every office problem, however. Employees in California and around the country are still being subject to discrimination, harassment, and other unlawful conduct, whether they are in the office or working from home. If you are working from home, can you even claim “workplace” harassment? Can you have a hostile work environment if you are not “in” the work environment? Read on to learn about hostile work environments and harassment claims while working from home. If you’ve experienced harassment, discrimination, or other unlawful treatment at your job, call a dedicated Riverside workplace harassment lawyer for help.

Harassment and Hostile Work Environments

Workplace harassment is illegal under both California and federal labor laws. Harassment is considered a form of unlawful workplace discrimination. Harassment can take many forms, including any type of unwanted behavior or policies that pertain to an employee’s race, color, gender, sexual identity, national origin, or other immutable characteristics. Examples of harassing conduct include:

  • Offensive jokes or images
  • Offensive language such as racial slurs or name-calling
  • Physical or verbal assaults such as threats, intimidation, or ridicule
  • Personal insults, objects, or pictures that interfere with an employee’s ability to do their job
  • Unwanted physical contact
  • Unwanted sexual advancements, requests for sexual favors, or physical sexual conduct

To constitute unlawful harassment, the conduct cannot be one-off, minor annoyances. To rise to the level of being illegal, the conduct must be so offensive or so pervasive as to create a hostile work environment that no reasonable person would tolerate. A single comment by a coworker is unlikely to create a hostile work environment, although there can be circumstances in which a single comment or action is so offensive as to rise to the level of illegality. More commonly, an employee must be subject to regular harassment either perpetrated or permitted by supervisors.

A sexual harassment claim can also be based on “quid pro quo” harassment. Quid pro quo harassment involves conditioning the benefits of employment on the provision of sexual favors; for example, offering to promote an employee if they go on a date with a supervisor, or threatening to fire an employee if they say no.

Remote Working and Harassment

Employers are responsible for putting a stop to any harassing conduct that occurs. They are directly liable for harassment perpetrated by supervisors and can also be held liable if they allow continued harassment perpetrated by coworkers. These factors do not change just because someone is working remotely.

Working from home removes some of the interactivity between employees, but not all. Workers can still be subjected to harassment in the form of offensive messages, emails, calls, or images. Offensive jokes or images in chats, emails, phone calls, or video calls are just as problematic as if they were perpetrated against a coworker in person. Sharing offensive memes, changing a coworker’s display name on Zoom, or other behaviors targeting a worker’s protected characteristics (gender, race, sexual identity, etc.) are actionable in a remote working environment just as they would be had the employee been working at the office.

Employees who experience harassment while working remotely have to meet the same standard for bringing claims as those who work in the office. They must show a hostile work environment or quid pro quo form of harassment. If the conduct is so offensive or pervasive that a reasonable person would feel threatened or abused, then they could have a claim against their employer. In the work-from-home environment, it might be even easier to prove by reference to saved chats, emails, and other digital communications.

Call a Dedicated Labor Lawyer for Help Recovering After Harassment in the Workplace

For help recovering compensation after experiencing harassment or a hostile work environment in Southern California, call Ochoa & Calderón to discuss your case with a dedicated, thorough California labor and employment attorney. Call 951-901-4444 in Riverside or 844-401-0750 toll-free throughout Southern California.

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