Harassment

KEY LAWS TO KNOW ABOUT HARASSMENT IN CALIFORNIA

1. General Harassment and Threats

It is a crime to make a threat or threaten to kill or injure a person, where the perpetrator intends it to be taken seriously (even if he/she does not intend to actually carry out the threat). This applies whether the threat is made in person, in writing, online, by text, or otherwise. Punishment is up to 1 year in jail.1CA Penal Code Sec 422

2. Harassment and Bullying at Work

Under California law, you have the right to protection against harassment or bullying by your employer if the harassment is based on: race, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, physical or mental disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, age, or sexual orientation.2CA Govt Code Sec. 12940(j)(1), (3)

You also have the right to protection against sexual harassment by your employer, regardless of whether it is based on discrimination.3CA Govt Code Sec. 12940(j)(1), (3)

3. Bullying in School

You have the right to protection against bullying in school. School officials even have the authority to discipline cyber bullies, whether the bullying takes place on campus or off campus.4Cal. Education Code Sec. 48900

4. Public Harassment/Street HarassmentBullying and harassing on the street

All of the following are crimes punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and/or up to 6 months in jail (though in some cases it could be considered a more serious crime with more severe punishment):

  • Engaging in “lewd conduct” in public, which includes making explicit sexual comments or obscene or sexual gestures.5Cal Penal Code Sec 647(a)
  • Indecent exposure: when someone exposes his/her genitals to another person in public.6Cal Penal Code 314
  • Intentionally blocking the free movement of another person on a street, sidewalk or other public place.7Cal Penal Code 647c
  • Physically groping someone or touching them in a sexually inappropriate way; it is a crime called “sexual battery.”8Cal Penal Code 234.4(e); you can also sue someone for it, Cal Civil Code Sec 1708.5
  • If 2 or more people gather together to harass others,9or for any unlawful purpose or for a lawful purpose in a violent or boisterous way it is a crime called “unlawful assembly.”10Cal Penal Code Sec 407

5. Harassment on Public Transportation

All of the following is unlawful on public transportation, punishable by $400 fine and/or up to 90 days in jail:11Cal Penal Code Sec 640

  • Disturbing another person by making loud or unreasonable noise
  • Intentionally disturbing others on a bus/train or platform by engaging in boisterous or unruly behavior
  • Intentionally blocking the free movement of another person
  • Spitting on a bus/train or platform

6. Stalking or Cyberstalking

Stalking is illegal, and is defined by California law as repeatedly (at least twice) following or harassing someone and making a threat intending to place another in fear for his/her safety or the safety of his/her immediate family.12Cal Penal Code 646.9 It is punishable by jail for up to 1 year, and you may also be able to sue a stalker.13Cal Civil Code 1708.7

You have the right to protection against stalking and cyberstalking that makes you fear for your life or health. The police have an obligation to investigate any such stalking, and if they find a credible threat, to prosecute the offender. (Unfortunately, if the offender lives outside the U.S., there is little law enforcement can do at this time).1418 U.S. Code § 2261A

7. Harassment Based on Identity aka “Hate Crimes”

If someone uses force against you (or threatens to and appears to be able to carry out the threat) to deny you any of your rights, such as freedom of movement, because of one of the characteristics below, it is a hate crime. (Note: The hate crime is in addition to the underlying crime, for example it is a crime to block someone’s freedom of movement in public regardless of any characteristic that victim may have.) Hate crimes are punishable by up to a $5,000 fine and/or up to 1 year in jail, and a minimum amount of community service.15Cal Penal Code Sec 422.6

Identities/characteristics which qualify for hate crimes: gender, sexual orientation, race/ethnicity, nationality, religion, disability. Hate crimes can also be based on even a perception that a victim has one of these characteristics, even when he/she doesn’t, or an association with someone who has one of these actual or perceived characteristics.


EXERCISE YOUR RIGHTS

In general, if you feel your safety or the safety of others is being immediately threatened, call 911. Otherwise, you can do the following:

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