Unlawful harassment is basically unwelcome verbal or physical conduct based on a protected category where it has been shown that either the conduct is sufficiently severe or pervasive to create a hostile work environment; or a supervisor’s harassing conduct results in a tangible change in an employee’s employment status or benefits (for example, demotion, termination, failure to promote, etc.).
Anyone in the workplace might commit this type of harassment – a management official, co-worker, or sometimes a non-employee. The victim can be anyone affected by the conduct, not just the individual at whom the offensive conduct is directed.
Harassment is a serious issue in the workplace that can have serious results for an employee, especially in regards to the employee’s emotional well-being. But, the anti-discrimination statutes are not a general civility code. Simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not extremely serious are not harassment just because they occurred in the workplace. Rather, the conduct must be so objectively offensive as to alter the conditions of the individual’s employment.
There are many laws that address employment discrimination and/or harassment in the workplace including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), as well as state and local laws including California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act. These laws have specific and different requirements, as well as different statutes of limitations.