What is Sufficiently Severe Sexual Harassment for a Hostile Work Environment?

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In order for a hostile work environment lawsuit to be viable, the harassment must be sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the victim’s employment and create a hostile and abusive environment. There is no bright line rule for what conduct is sufficiently severe or pervasive to constitute a hostile work environment.

The harassment may be either severe or pervasive, or both. Severity depends upon the gravity of the threatening or abusive nature of the harassing conduct. Offensive touching or threatening behavior can constitute conduct that is sufficiently severe to create a hostile work environment. The California Supreme Court has stated that in order for a single incident of harassment to be sufficiently severe, generally it will be “egregious conduct akin to a physical assault or threat thereof."

Whether offensive touching will be considered severe will depend on how offensive or extreme the touching is. For example, the courts have found that touching a victim’s hair or arms is not sufficiently severe to create a hostile work environment, at least not on a single occasion.

Additional Resources

For more information on sexual harassment, please check out www.sexualharassmentguide.com

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Related Topics

Hostile work environments

Hostile work environments are created when an employee fears or dreads going to work because of harassment, shunning, or other oppressive behaviors.

Workplace harassment

Workplace harassment is the singling out of individuals based on their sex, age, race, religion, or disability, or any harassment relating to those factors.

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