California’s Protected Characteristics

Before we move on we need to make sure that you understand that, for the law to be broken, the bad behavior must be motivated by the victim’s protected characteristic. What is a protected characteristic? 

The California Legislature has created eighteen protected categories:

  1. Race,
  2. Religion (religious creed),
  3. Color, 
  4. National origin, 
  5. Ancestry, 
  6. Physical disability, 
  7. Mental disability, 
  8. Medical condition, 
  9. Genetic information, 
  10. Marital status, 
  11. Sex (also includes pregnancy and related medical conditions), 
  12. Gender,
  13. Gender identity, 
  14. Gender expression, 
  15. Age (if over 40 years old), 
  16. Sexual orientation,  
  17. Military, and 
  18. Veteran status.

If you are being treated poorly at work because you have one of these characteristics, you may be in a hostile work environment.

The “protected characteristic” requirement is what elevates the bad behavior from a perfectly legal toxic work environment to an unlawful hostile work environment. Most people simply assume that bullying at work is illegal. But it’s not. It is completely legal unless it is based on a protected characteristic – at which point it becomes a hostile work environment. Watch this video to learn more.

Harassment, Discrimination & Bullying. 4:04 mins

Also, what is the difference between “harassment” and a “hostile work environment?” Well, that’s easy – they are usually the same thing. Lawyers use the terms interchangeably.