Everyone has had a jerk for a boss. Some worse than others. I’m not just talking about the boss who last minute, insists that you work late Friday evening or show up to the office on a Sunday during football season. I’m talking about the absolutely over-the-top, how is it possible this guy even has a job boss. He makes nasty comments about your appearance and your workstation. He calls you out in team meetings so everyone can hear what an incompetent lazy fool he thinks you are. He screams at you in his office when you bring him the latest financial reports and his rant spills over into the hallway while he follows you back to your desk. This boss is an absolute nightmare and you’re not special. This is how he treats everyone.
Unfortunately, it is not illegal to be a horrific manager without any people skills whatsoever. Your boss’s conduct, harassing by any lay person’s definition, does not rise to the level of harassment under the law. Legal harassment claims are governed by the Fair Employment and Housing Act in California (FEHA). The FEHA makes it illegal to harass someone because of their status in a protected class. e.g. race, gender, age, sexual orientation, religion, disability, national origin. Harassment comes in many forms and can be verbal and/or physical. The boss may take to giving females in the office unwelcome massages at their desks or cast derogatory religious slurs to the the Muslims in the office. This type of conduct is unacceptable and may form the basis of a lawsuit.
The FEHA does protect employees from harassment but it is not a general civility code. It will not prevent your whack-job boss from treating you poorly. However, 2015 marked what could turn out to be a big step in the right direction. AB2053 went into effect January 1st. This anti-bullying legislation mandates prevention training for “abusive conduct” in the workplace. Abusive conduct is defined by statute as conduct that a reasonable person would find hostile or offensive and unrelated to an employer’s legitimate business interests. Legitimate business interests probably don’t include doing something “just because” and likely need to positively affect an important aspect of the business. i.e increase the bottom line. The clincher is that the training is all there is to the law. There is no penalty, fine or right to file a lawsuit if bullying takes place. In essence, your boss can continue to be abusive and so long as he received the required training, he is in the clear, as is your employer. But don’t lose hope. As more people take on this fight, the more change we can expect to see, until eventually bullies and their enabling employers suffer the consequences of their actions.