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Bullying at the Workplace

November 1, 2023 Legal Team

Workplace bullying is a pervasive issue that can have profound effects on both employees and company culture. If you find yourself experiencing bullying at work, it’s essential to understand your rights, recognize the signs, and take proactive steps to address the situation. 

Bullying at the Workplace

Recognizing Workplace Bullying

Workplace bullying refers to repeated, harmful, and targeted behaviors aimed at intimidating, degrading, or undermining an individual within a professional setting. Unlike occasional conflicts or disagreements, bullying is characterized by a persistent pattern of mistreatment that creates a hostile work environment. Here are some examples:

Verbal Abuse

Constantly belittling, ridiculing, or shouting at a colleague can constitute verbal abuse. This behavior is intended to demean and erode the target’s confidence.


Threatening behavior, whether physical or verbal, creates an atmosphere of fear. This can include making aggressive gestures, using threatening language, or displaying hostile body language.

Exclusion and Isolation

Deliberately excluding an individual from work-related activities, meetings, or social interactions is a form of bullying. This behavior aims to isolate the target from the team.

Undermining Work

Sabotaging a colleague’s work, spreading false rumors, or intentionally withholding information necessary for their job performance can undermine the individual’s professional standing.

Unreasonable Workload

Assigning an excessive and unmanageable workload to a specific employee, with the intention of overwhelming them, is a form of bullying. This can lead to stress, burnout, and diminished job performance.

Constant Criticism

Consistently criticizing and nitpicking a person’s work, appearance, or personal attributes can contribute to a toxic work environment. This behavior erodes self-esteem and creates a sense of inadequacy.


Using digital platforms to harass, humiliate, or spread false information about a colleague is a modern form of workplace bullying. This can include sending abusive emails, engaging in online gossip, or spreading rumors through social media.


Excessive and intrusive supervision, where a manager closely monitors and controls every aspect of an employee’s work, can be a subtle form of bullying. It can make the employee feel disempowered and undervalued.

Withholding Resources

Deliberately withholding necessary resources, such as information, tools, or opportunities, hinders an employee’s ability to perform effectively. This can be a subtle yet impactful form of bullying.

Understanding Your Rights

While there is no specific standalone law in California that directly addresses workplace bullying, several existing laws and regulations protect employees from various forms of mistreatment. Here are key aspects of California employee rights related to bullying:

California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA)

FEHA prohibits harassment and discrimination in the workplace based on protected characteristics, such as race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, age, and disability. If bullying is based on any of these protected characteristics, it may constitute a violation of FEHA.

Hostile Work Environment

Employees have the right to a workplace free from a hostile or abusive atmosphere. If bullying behavior creates a hostile work environment and is based on protected characteristics, employees may have grounds for legal action.

Retaliation Protection

California law prohibits retaliation against employees who report harassment, discrimination, or other workplace violations. If an employee is retaliated against for reporting bullying, they may have legal recourse.

Healthy Workplace Laws

California has recognized the importance of promoting a healthy workplace. While there is no specific law addressing workplace bullying, employers are encouraged to implement policies and practices that prevent and address harmful behavior in the workplace.

Employer Policies

Many California employers have policies in place to address workplace bullying. Employees should familiarize themselves with their employer’s policies on harassment, discrimination, and respectful workplace behavior then report the instances of bullying to HR. 

If the issue persists and internal measures are ineffective, employees experiencing bullying should consult a trusted Orange County Employment Attorney as soon as possible. They can provide guidance on legal options and next steps.