“Hostile work environment” is one of those buzz phrases that gets thrown around often. It is used so frequently that it is hard to tell what a hostile work environment looks like. On a basic level, harassment in a hostile work environment must be based on the following in order to be protected under federal or state law: “race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information”.
If you think that you have been a victim of a hostile work environment, you should not feel alone. Reach out to one of our team of employment lawyers at Freundlich & Littman, LLC. We are here to help you with the process.
What is a Hostile Work Environment?
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines a hostile work environment as harassment where the “conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive”. A hostile work environment deals with workplace harassment that goes beyond normal degrees of teasing or joking behavior. The harassment would have to bad enough that your work itself was affected.
Here are some examples of behavior that would be sufficiently severe:
- Racial jokes
- Physical force or threat of physical force
- Displays of offensive pictures
- Repeated use of intimidation that interferes with work performance
Who Can Be a Victim?
Behavior does not have to be directed at you for you to be a victim of hostile work environment. A hostile work environment can affect all employees.
For instance, if your boss made sexual advances to your desk mate every day, it would be extremely difficult to complete your work. When you stood up for your desk mate and reported the incidents to HR or a supervisor, you were intimidated into keeping silent. You, your desk mate, and anyone else who witnessed the harassment daily could in theory bring a claim of hostile work environment.
Who is a Guilty Party?
Many people assume that only their supervisor can be guilty of creating a hostile work environment. While that is often the case, you can bring a hostile work environment claim against other members of your workplace. The perpetrator of a hostile work environment can be anyone regularly in contact with the workplace. Examples can be the following:
- Direct or indirect supervisors
- Agent of the employer
- Non-employee who regularly is in contact with the work environment
Employer’s Responsibilities in a Hostile Work Environment
Proving that your employer is liable for a hostile work environment can be tricky. It is best to seek out an employment lawyer when considering whether to sue your past or present employer.
If the perpetrator of a hostile work environment is a supervisor, direct or indirect, then your employer is liable for their actions. The employer is liable unless they successfully prove that they reasonably tried to prevent a hostile work environment and address any harassing behavior, or that the employee failed to take advantage of workplace reporting procedures that was known to the employee.
If the perpetrator of a hostile work environment was a non-managerial employee or a non-employee who was frequently in contact with the workplace, employers are not automatically liable. They will be held liable for a hostile work environment if the employer actually knew or should have known about the harassment, but failed to take reasonable measures to correct the harassing behavior.
Liability on the employer can be complicated, but an experienced employment lawyer will be able pursue all avenues of recovery. The employment lawyers at Freundlich & Littman, LLC will aggressively fight for your rights.
Reporting a Hostile Work Environment
Employees are often terrified to report a hostile work environment to their supervisors or employers. Often, people are still working for a company when contemplating bringing a suit of hostile work environment. Instead of skipping right to thinking about a lawsuit, employees contact their supervisors or their Human Resources Department. Sometimes the situation goes well and the harassment stops, yet other times it progresses.
Regardless of the outcome of your complaint, an employer absolutely may not retaliate against you for making a complaint of a hostile work environment. This is illegal. Retaliation, like instances of a hostile work environment, can take many forms. Retaliation is defined as any adverse employment action taken against you without a reasonable explanation.
Examples of retaliation are:
- Changing work shifts
- Write ups
You may not be retaliated against for making a complaint, speaking out against discrimination of another, or otherwise participating in any “investigation, proceeding, or lawsuit” regarding a hostile work environment. If you think you are a victim of retaliation for making a complaint or participating in such a proceeding of a hostile work environment, do not hesitate to seek legal advice. Our team of employment lawyers can be reached at 215-545-8500 to schedule a free consultation.