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.