Legally, “hostile work environment” means more than having a bad boss or co-workers who don’t treat you well. The law defines a hostile work environment as one in which any reasonable person would feel uncomfortable and unsafe. However, simply establishing that your work environment is hostile is not sufficient to support a legal claim.
A co-worker who repeatedly interrupts while you’re on the telephone and makes negative comments about the picture of your dog on your desk or a boss who yells all the time may create a work environment you experience as hostile, but they won’t give rise to a legal claim in the absence of unlawful discrimination.
Type of Hostile Work Environment Claims
Some of the most common types of hostile work environment claims relate to treatment based on:
What Constitutes a Hostile Work Environment?
Many different types of behaviors may give rise to a hostile work environment claim, if those behaviors are due to membership in a protected class. Some common examples include:
- Unwanted sexual advances
- Unwelcome touching
- Frequent denigrating comments based in race, sex, or another protected characteristic
- Display of sexually explicit, racially denigrating or otherwise offensive content
- Inappropriate jokes based on race, sex, or other protected classification
While this type of behavior is never acceptable, isolated incidents will typically not provide grounds for a hostile work environment claim. The behavior must be continuing and pervasive, and impact the atmosphere to such a degree as to disrupt the employee’s work experience and interfere with his or her ability to perform the job. In addition, an employer is only liable for a hostile work environment created by other employees, clients, or others if the employer has been made aware of the situation and has failed or refused to take action.
Proving a Hostile Work Environment Claim
Building a hostile work environment case can be complicated. The claimant will have to establish that:
- He or she has been subjected to pervasive harassment or other negative conduct that significantly impacts the work environment
- The negative behaviors are a result of his or her membership in the protected class
- The employer has been made aware of the problem
- The employer has been afforded reasonable time to remedy the situation and has not done so
In addition, timelines and procedural requirements may vary depending on the type of discrimination involved. For example, you may be required to exhaust possible remedies within your company, or to file a complaint with a government agency before you may pursue a lawsuit.
Talk to an Experienced Employment Discrimination Lawyer
If you are experiencing a hostile work environment and you have reported illegal activity within your organization or cooperated with a government investigation, you should talk to an attorney about your rights in the workplace. The attorneys at Yarian and Associates have the knowledge and experience to help you with your employment law matters. Call us today to schedule a free consultation appointment.