Having a bad day at work is one thing. Getting harassed daily by a co-worker or your boss is a whole separate matter. If you feel like you are working in a hostile environment, you have a right for these actions to stop, and if they do not, you deserve to go after the people that are causing you to this extreme fear, anxiety, and stress at your workplace.
In this blog post, we will detail what exactly is a hostile work environment, what steps you need to take if you are working in such a situation, and how an employment lawyer can help you.
What is a Hostile Work Environment?
A hostile work environment is legally defined as offensive or unwelcome behavior that causes one or more workers to feel scared, intimidated, or uncomfortable in their place of employment. Simply put, a hostile work environment is the sum of all communications, behaviors, and actions done by an individual at work (boss, client, colleague, vendor) that alters the expectations, terms, or conditions of a workplace that a worker feels comfortable with.
What is NOT a hostile work environment:
- A worksite that is unpleasant
- A bad boss
- Obnoxious co-workers
- Lack of benefits or perks
- Feeling undervalued or underpaid
Therefore, to truly have your work environment meet the level of illegal hostility, it needs to go beyond the causal lousy joke.
Legal Requirements for a Hostile Environment
Dealing with a hostile environment can be a complicated process, as most of these cases are extremely fact-specific and quite subjective. Additionally, it is hard to say precisely when a working environment becomes illegal, as most often, nobody in the workplace will admit to their wrongdoing. Therefore, to determine if your workplace is hostile, the court needs to consider all aspects of the harassment, including the severity of the behavior and frequency.
So how does someone succeed in a hostile work environment case? By establishing the following factors:
- Discriminatory in Nature: The workplace’s actions must result in discrimination against a protected classification, such as age, disability, race, or religion.
- Pervasive: The workplace communications or behavior must be pervasive, or lasting over time, and not just limited to some remark or statement that an employee found unacceptable. An action becomes pervasive if it continues over some time, is all around the employee, and is not investigated adequately by the employer to make the problem stop.
- Severe: The workplace actions or behavior must be severe, such that they disrupt the employee’s ability to work or their work product. In addition, the severity can occur if it interferes with a worker’s career progress; for example, they fail to receive a promotion because of the hostile environment.
- Unwelcome: The inappropriate actions, harassment, communication, or behavior must be unwelcome. Generally, to show that it is unwanted, there is some evidence that an employee asked the hostile worker to stop their behavior, but it continued to persist.
The Questions You Need to Ask Yourself
If you are still hesitant about whether you are working in a hostile environment, ask yourself the following questions:
- Are the actions, communications, or behavior unwelcome?
- Are the actions, interactions, or behavior happening over a period of time, repeatedly?
- Could you view the incident as hostile, both subjectively and objectively?
- Are the actions, communications, or behavior discriminatory towards a protected class?
If you answer yes to these questions, you need to speak with an experienced employment attorney who can protect you against these illegal actions by your employer.
What Evidence Do You Need to Show Hostility?
Once people figure out they are working in a hostile environment, the next question they often ask is now what? In response, we have prepared the below necessary steps that you need to take to document this hostility.
Company’s Internal Complaint System
If you think you are working in a hostile environment before you do anything, make sure you create an internal official complaint. Yes, many people often worry about telling their HR about their issues in fear of getting in trouble. However, it is illegal for your employer to retaliate against any employee who complains about harassment or discrimination, even if the claim holds no validity.
Obtaining evidence that shows the organization or management was aware of the hostility, or that they should have been made aware is crucial for your claim. Start by documenting times, dates, places, and discussions at which you reported this harassment to the appropriate people. Even if it is an informal meeting with a supervisor, documenting these discussions can help show that the hostility was pervasive and that employer did nothing about it.
Having witnesses support your case can make your claim stronger. Therefore, if there are people who saw the harassment take place, make sure to get their name, contact information, and write down exactly what they saw. If the witness is willing to do so, have them provide you with a written statement or an email detailing the incident.
Just as witness statements are critical, physical proof of your harassment can also be vital in proving your claim. Make sure to save all communications (notes, letters, emails, and voicemails) that detail the hostility and how often it occurred.
Keep Proof of Negative Impact
A great way to document how a hostile working environment affected your work performance is saving all your performance reviews from your employer and keeping all your medical records. These records can show that you not only sought medical help around the time you claimed you were being harassed at work, but it can also provide you with a timeline that can strengthen your overall case.
Contact an Experienced Employment Lawyer
If you are experiencing a hostile work environment, you need to contact a knowledgeable and skilled employment lawyer today. With everything you are going through, you do not need to add more to your plate by trying to figure out which laws apply to your situation. Instead, these lawyers can take care of all of this legal work for you while fighting for the justice you deserve.
If you would like to discuss your employment issue or find out more about our business and employment law services, give us a call at 916-446-2000 today. We look forward to providing you the legal representation that you need.