Hostility at Work – When Is It Enough to Be Illegal?

“In the end, the aggressors always destroy themselves, making way for others who know how to cooperate and get along. Life is much less a competitive struggle for survival than a triumph of cooperation and creativity.”

—Fritjof Capra

 Hostile work environments are created when offensive behavior, intimidation, or abuse by a coworker or superior makes an employee feel uncomfortable, intimidated, or scared in the workplace.  Harassing conduct that is severe or pervasive can be part of this.  The hostile work environment or harassment must have been motivated by discriminatory beliefs regarding race, gender, religion, disability, age, or other civil-rights-protected category; it is not enough that a boss or coworker be hostile, rude, abrasive, or unfair, that behavior had to be motivated by discriminatory beliefs about people who belong to legally protected categories.

If you’re being harassed, then the Supreme Court says that you have to report it, if the company has a harassment policy, and give them a chance to fix the harassment.

To determine whether a work environment is hostile, an assessment is made based upon the totality of the circumstances. The severity of harassment is judged from the perspective of a reasonable person in the employee’s position.  An attorney would likely have the following questions:

  • Was the conduct verbal or physical or both?
  • How frequently was the conduct repeated?
  • Was the conduct hostile or patently offensive?
  • Was the harasser a co-worker or supervisor?
  • Did others join in perpetrating the harassment?
  • What happened when management became aware of the situation?
  • Does the employee belong to a protected class based on race, religion, ethnicity, age, sex or disability?
  • Was the harassment directly related to the employee being a member of one of these protected classes?
  • Did the employer know of and fail to address the harassment?

Hostile work environment claims are very much based on the individual circumstances involved.  Generally, a hostile work environment claim has merit if the harassment is ongoing and severe, and it is offensive to not only the person being harassed, but also would offensive to any reasonable person in the same position.  For a claim to be successful, it is very important that there is evidence that the problem was reported; having documented the hostile work environment/harassment.

Contact an employment attorney to discuss what’s been happening to you, we’ve heard it all, we know how this works, and we want to help.

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