Hello and thank you for entrusting me to answer your question. I am very sorry to her about your incredibly unpleasant work situation.
To answer your question, a "hostile work environment" claim in the state of California can only arise from conduct based upon an employee's race, religious creed, color, national origin, ancestry, physical disability, mental disability, medical condition, marital status, sex, age (over 40), or sexual orientation.
Harassment for any other reason, while extremely unprofessional and inappropriate, is not generally illegal, and the courts have made clear that a requirement of "politeness" cannot and should not be legislated into the law.
What is important to stress, however, is that slanderous statements are actionable on separate grounds. You do not need to prove hostile work environment if you can prove slander if your interest is in collecting damages.
A cause of action for slander typically arises when a false statement of fact
is made to a third party and that false statement causes damage to the person who is the subject of that statement.
Key to a claim for slander is that the statement be a statement of fact, not merely a statement of opinion. As you are likely aware, the First Amendment protects individuals' rights to free speech, and the law provides great leeway for people to express their opinions, even ones for which there is no apparent factual basis.
Thus, the key to proving a claim for slander is being able to demonstrate that the statements made are objectively false. For example, a statement that "Lisa has embezzled from the company" would be actionable because these things either did or did not occur and there is no room for debate. However, the statement that "This is an incompetent employee" would probably not be actionable because this statement is subjective and a matter of opinion.
Unfortunately, even if an employee is the subject of slanderous statements, that would likely not permit them to voluntarily quit and remain eligible for UE benefits in the eyes of the EDD.
The EDD does permit individuals to collect unemployment benefits if they quit with "good cause," but the test for determining "good cause is an extremely stringent one.
"Good cause" is defined in Title 22, Section 1256-3(b):"Good cause" exists for leaving work, when a substantial motivating factor in causing the claimant to leave work, at the time of leaving, whether or not work connected, is real, substantial, and compelling and would cause a reasonable person genuinely desirous of retaining employment to leave work under the same circumstances. Generally good cause for leaving work is decided on the facts at the time the claimant left work. Unless there is a timely connection between any alleged reason for leaving and the actual leaving, the employee has waived what might otherwise justify termination of the employment relationship and has negated the required causal connection between any given alleged reason for leaving and leaving. The claimant may submit several reasons for leaving work, some of which, when considered individually, do not constitute good cause. However, if one reason which is good cause is a substantial motivating factor in causing the claimant to leave work, the claimant's leaving is with good cause.
Furthermore, Title 22, Section 1256-3(c) provides:Prior to leaving work, the claimant has a duty to attempt to preserve the employment relationship. Failure to do so negates what would otherwise constitute good cause.
For a more full explanation of the circumstances in which an employee can voluntarily quit and stil remain eligible for benefits, see this link and scroll down about 70% to the subsection on "Good Cause." http://edd.ca.gov/UIBDG/Voluntary_Quit_VQ_5.htm#Leaving%20Work
I sincerely XXXXX XXXXX this information helps you and I wish you the best.
My absolute greatest concern
is that you are satisfied with the answer I provide, so please do not hesitate to contact me with follow-up questions. Also, please bear in mind that none of the above constitutes legal advice nor is any attorney client relationship created between us.