Although employers can’t guarantee a stress-free work environment, it makes sense to eliminate as much unpleasantness as possible. That means establishing and enforcing “no hazing” and “no public argument” rules. Urge supervisors and co-workers who act like bullies to clean up their acts.
Otherwise, California employees who claim they have been harassed or otherwise made to work in an unpleasant environment may sue for intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Recent case: Evleen Salem, who was born and raised in the Middle East and speaks Arabic as her native language, went to work for a furniture retailer. Almost immediately, she began having trouble with a co-worker, whom she said was romantically interested in her.
When she rebuffed him, their relationship got rocky. The two often argued in front of customers, and the co-worker belittled her English skills, threw notebooks and generally tried to pick arguments with her.
She complained to a supervisor, who told her she was a troublemaker and eventually fired her. Salem sued, alleging sexual harassment, discrimination and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The court concluded that Salem had presented enough evidence to justify a trial. It said the co-worker’s acts were possibly “outrageous conduct so extreme as to exceed all bounds of that usually tolerated in a civilized community,” and therefore could be intentional infliction of emotional distress. (Salem v. Heritage Square, No. C-06-04691, ND CA, 2007)
- Attorney General's office settles sex harassment claims
- Have a progressive-discipline system? Great! But reserve right to fire immediately if necessary
- Respond right away to avoid costly judgments
- Convey policy changes by paper, not e-mail
- Police called in response to workplace harassment? You must still act to stop future incidents