Enduring the demoralizing strain of a hostile work environment can be unmistakably harmful to employees. Yet the legal definition of a hostile work environment may be difficult to interpret, making victims of workplace discrimination and harassment unable to take action against unfair or unwelcome on-the-job treatment. This discussion explains the official definition of a hostile work environment as well as some useful indicators to help you to determine if your stressful work situation meets the standard of being considered a hostile work environment.
What Is a Hostile Work Environment?
A workplace can be considered a hostile work environment if it exposes a worker to another person’s behaviors, actions, or attention that is persistent or significant enough to interfere with the worker’s ability to perform their job. Beyond any passing comment that offends or treatment considered unfair, a hostile work environment involves a situation that can be objectively deemed severe and/or persistent. This treatment must involve discrimination against the person targeted.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines a hostile work environment as violating one or more of the following civil rights statutes:
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
- The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA)
- The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA)
Together these laws make it illegal to mistreat a person on the basis of their status as a member of a protected class. Protected classes include those defined by: Race, color, religion, sex including sexual orientation, gender identity, or pregnancy, national origin, older age beginning at age 40, disability, or genetic information including family medical history.
Another aspect of a hostile work environment is how it affects the victim by making them believe that enduring the mistreatment is a condition of their continued employment, and that speaking out or making it an issue would cost them their job. Similarly, the law protects individuals from retaliation for alleging, testifying, or participating in investigations or legal actions regarding claims of workplace harassment or discrimination.
What Creates a Hostile Work Environment?
Most people of working age have experienced at least a few unpleasant workplace exchanges, including off-color jokes, offensive comments, or other objectionable matters. These may be common, but they are generally distinguishable from toxically intimidating or abusive circumstances that exist in a hostile work environment. Still, when these transgressions involve repeated direct insults, intolerable negative or unwanted attention, or relentless and aggressive attacks, the situation takes on a whole new meaning under the law.
Some of the behaviors that may create a hostile work environment include:
- Racist or sexist comments, jokes, or slurs
- Sexual harassment including unwanted touching, propositioning, or persistent unwelcome attention
- Offensive or suggestive jokes
- Making comments to degrade a person for their association with a protected group
- Threats or intimidation
- Sabotage or retaliation
It is important to note that the employer plays a vital role in putting an end to workplace harassment and it is the employer’s legal responsibility to investigate and resolve reports of a hostile work environment. If an employer fails to take timely and effective action to address these claims, they can be held legally liable for the damage inflicted on the claimant.
South Jersey Employment Lawyers at The Law Offices of Leo B. Dubler, III, LLC, Help Prove Hostile Workplace Claims
If you were subjected to a hostile work environment, you should be able to find a legal remedy for your situation. The South Jersey employment lawyers at The Law Offices of Leo B. Dubler, III, LLC, can determine if your claim meets the criteria of antidiscrimination laws and help you seek compensation for your damages. Call us today at 856-235-7075 or contact us online for a free consultation. With office locations in Mount Laurel and Atlantic City, New Jersey, we proudly serve clients from Cherry Hill, Burlington County, Camden County, and throughout South Jersey.