California Harassment Law: What You Need To Know

Unlawful workplace harassment occurs when a person directs negative, unwanted, or violence-related conduct at workers based on certain characteristics like age, gender, race, culture, and even on one’s disability. So it is necessary for employees and employers to know the scope of California’s legal protections against such workplace harassment.

Criminal Harassment Laws in California

In California, criminal threats that threaten body injury or physical violence of any sort are judged under penal code 422. Under penal code 422, a perpetrator, if proven guilty, can be sentenced to a county jail in California or California State Prison. 

  • Stalking

Stalking is punishable under the penal code 649.9. It is described as, willfully, maliciously, repeatedly following, harassing, or making a credible threat to another person with the intent of placing them or their family in reasonable fear for their safety.

Cyberstalking, which also falls under the penal code 649.9 of California criminal harassment law, is described as the act of intimidating, harassing, or bullying someone with the help of “electronic communication”, such as e-mail, social media, text messages, or a telephone. Cyberstalking is also punishable by jail time in County jails or the California state prison. 

Let us now look into the individual laws against different forms of criminal harassment. 

Domestic Violence Charges in California Harassment Laws

A lot of criminal harassment charges in California are related to domestic violence. Domestic violence can take place between two people who are married, divorced, separated, dating, used-to-date, living together, used to live together, or related. 

Harming or threatening to harm a person you are intimately related to can be considered domestic violence. It is punishable under the charges mentioned in penal code 243(e)(1) “domestic battery” and penal code 273.5 of California Harassment laws. 

  • Consequences

The consequences of domestic violence in California can include, 

  1. Mandatory jail time
  2. Mandatory participation in domestic violence classes. 
  3. Payment fines and/or victim restitution. 
  4. Loss of custody of a child
  5. Loss of rights to keep a gun under California Gun Laws. 
  6. A permanent criminal record
  7. Immigration-related issues like deportation or inadmissibility in the United States. 

These consequences apply even if the perpetrator qualifies for a “Summary” probation or a “Felony” probation.

  • Crimes Considered as Domestic Violence

Under the California Family Code, the victim range of domestic violence includes,

  1. Child abuse under Penal Code 273d
  2. Elder or dependant-adult abuse under Penal Code 368
  3. Criminal Threats under Penal Code 422.
  4. Child neglect under PC 270
  5. Child endangerment under PC 273a. 
  6. Posting harmful information on the internet under PC 653.2
  7. Revenge Porn under PC 647(j)(4)
  8. Aggravated trespassing under PC 601
  9. Cutting off a telephone line under PC 591
  10. Violating a restraining order under PC 273.6 
  • Chances of Probation

The perpetrator of a domestic violence-related case can be released on probation for two reasons mainly,

  1. If it is their first offense 
  2. If the injury sustained by the victim is minor. 

Charges Against Stalking in California

California harassment laws define stalking under penal code 649.9 as, 

Anyone who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows or willfully and maliciously harasses someone and who makes a credible threat with the intent to place them, or their immediate family, in reasonable fear of their safety.

Stalking can be held under domestic violence if done to a family member or a person the perpetrator was/is intimately related with. 

  • Definition of the Crime

The stalking laws define the term “harassment” as any form of willful conduct directed to another person with no other proven intent than to torment, annoy or scare them. So it is a pretty wide range of activities that can be considered harassment or stalking. 

Stalking can occur in other ways than physical or intimate contact. In order for the prosecutor to convict someone of Penal Code 649.9 of California harassment laws, he has to prove the occurrence of every activity listed under stalker behavior of CALCRIM 1301

  1. The defendant willfully and maliciously harassed someone and/or followed them. 
  2. The defendant made a credible threat to harm the other person or their immediate family. 

The prosecutor has the right to file a case of Penal code 649.9 as a felony crime or misdemeanor. The decision is usually made based on the circumstances, damage, and criminal history of the defendant. 

  • Consequences

A conviction under felony charges can lead up to 16 months, two or three years in California state prison, and/or a fine of up to $10,000. 

If the case is filed under misdemeanor charges and the defendant is convicted, the sentence could include a year in county jail and a fine of up to $1000. 

If the defendant has prior convictions or charges of stalking, the felony punishment could extend to five years in a California state prison and a requirement to register as a sex offender under PC 290

Laws Against Workplace Harassment

Workplace harassment in California can be both criminal and civil harassment. But let us take in a holistic view of what conduct is crossing the line and is punishable by law if done in a professional environment.  

  • Punishable Actions

Punishable actions under the California harassment laws against workplace discrimination include,

  1. Inappropriate jokes, derogatory comments, and sleazy innuendos
  2. Physical harassment like unwanted touching or hitting. 
  3. Verbal threats, implied and explicit both
  4. Visual harassment like posters or signs
  5. Aggressive or repeated requests of sexual favors
  6. Showing discriminatory behavior based on protected characteristics.

There are multiple types of sexual harassment; some of them can be isolated incidents, those are not included in the definition of harassment. 

  • Preventing Workplace Harassment

California has mandatory seminars, workshops, and training programs to reduce the chance of workplace harassment. California Department of Fair Employment and Housing ensures and enforces laws against discrimination and harassment based on your actual or perceived 

  1. Age (40 or above)
  2. Ancestry 
  3. Disability (physical, mental, HIV, or AIDS)
  4. Color
  5. Genetic Information
  6. Gender identity, gender expression
  7. Marital status
  8. Military or veteran status
  9. National origin
  10. Race
  11. Religion (this includes religious grooming, dressing, and practices)
  12. Sex/Gender (this includes childbirth, breastfeeding, pregnancy, and/or other health-related conditions) 
  13.  Sexual orientation
  • Liability of Workplace Harassment

If an employee is harassed and suffers from any damage, the California anti-harassment laws allow them to recover money from the harasser. Now it is often misunderstood as to who owes the money to the employee.

If the harasser is of a supervisor status and the quality of the harassment was of sexual manner, the company itself owes money to the victim. If the harasser is a supervisor or an employer, the company is strictly liable for the felony or misdemeanor. 

On the other hand, if the perpetrator is simple another co-worker or a non-supervisory employee, the company will only be responsible if the incident satisfy the following conditions,

  1. If the employer knew about the recurring incidents of harassment and,
  2. They did not take immediate and proper action about it. 

The employer is judged more harshly if they have a record or history of previous negligence about harassment at the workplace. 

Bottom Line

There are numerous civil and criminal anti-harassment laws in California. This article focuses on recurring harassment and your rights to protect yourself against it. Felony charges may end up putting the perpetrator in jail for up to five years. The minimum punishment for harassment is 16 months in jail, community service, and a permanent criminal record.   

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