Work Injury Lawyer

The phrase “hostile work environment” is something that is commonly used by employees. Perhaps it is overused, and misunderstood. Before you think you need to call a lawyer regarding a hostile work environment, please read on to know more about it and what you should do if you are exposed to this situation.  

What is a Hostile Work Environment?

In general, there are two types of workplace discrimination. The first is when an employer takes an adverse employment action. This action may refer to a demotion, suspension, or firing because of the race, gender, age, views, or other characteristic of an employee. The second type of workplace discrimination is known as a hostile work environment. This occurs when the employee purposely subjects an employee to unlawful harassment because of a characteristic. 

Criteria for a Hostile Work Environment

Not all types of hostile work environments are illegal. In order to pursue any type of claim or litigation for a hostile work environment, you or your lawyer, will need to demonstrate:

  • You are a member of a protected class
  • You were subjected to harassment because of the protected class
  • The harassment affect your employment or work environment

Federal laws recognize the following to be protected classes:

  • Age
  • Color
  • Religion
  • Disability
  • Gender
  • Genetic makeup
  • National origin
  • Race

Your state and local laws may even provide further protections. For example, in Washington DC, an employer cannot discriminate on the basis of personal appearance, family responsibilities, political affiliation, or marital status. 

If you can prove the harassment was based on a characteristic, such as one of the above, or related to your characteristics, you may have a valid claim. More often than not, the connection isn’t obvious. An experienced lawyer will know of many employees who were in a hostile work environment, but could not connect this issue to a certain characteristic that was being harassed. In other words, an employee might claim they were given unreasonable or undesirable duties, yet fail to understand this action was clearly related to the protected characteristic. This is when it can be very useful to have a lawyer by your side. A lawyer can look at your case from “above” and put the pieces together. If you have a case, evidence will need to be presented that shows your employer made negative comments about your protected characteristic or class. 

It is also an issue if the harassment had the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with your work environment. However, if the harassment doesn’t affect a term or condition of your employment, you must prove that it had the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with your work environment. Examples of harassment that don’t affect terms or conditions of employment may include things like your supervisor:

  • Yelling at you
  • Making negative comments about you to colleagues
  • Ignoring you
  • Excluding you from meetings

Not only do you have to prove that these things actually happened, and that they were related to a protected characteristic, you must also prove that a reasonable person would think they created a hostile work environment.  It’s not enough that you personally found the harassment to be offensive. Generally, this requires that you prove that the harassment was severe and pervasive.

Examples of Harassment in the Workplace

Harassment can take many shapes and forms. In general, the following actions or behaviors are considered to be harassment, and are what can make up a hostile work environment. 

  • Displaying offense items related to a protected class or characteristic (i.e. sexually explicit images, a swastika, etc.)
  • Sexual contact
  • Threats
  • Derogatory comments

Actions or behaviors such as these might not be able to prove a hostile work environment. This is common when the employer takes prompt and effective action to stop the harassment. 

Hostile work environment cases are relatively complicated. You should have a civil rights lawyer review your case to determine your best options. Call today for more information.