Understand what a hostile work environment is and is not
A hostile work environment must be distinguished from a situation which is merely difficult or annoying. Work environments where someone might just be rude or unpleasant are typically not enough to constitute a hostile work environment. For instance, a boss yelling at an employee usually does not constitute a hostile workplace environment, but if there is evidence the behavior is based on discrimination, it could. A hostile workplace environment usually only exists when workplace harassment targets an employee because of race, genetics, age, sex, religion, national origin, or disability.
As a result, a hostile work environment could involve a variety of different elements depending on the context. Making discriminatory comments against someone based on race, genetics, age, sex, religion, national origin, or disability is an example of a hostile work environment. Another notable example is retaliating against an employee for complaining about discrimination on the basis of race, religion, gender etc. Similarly, sexually harassing someone can constitute a hostile workplace environment. A hostile work environment can also exist where a supervisor or co-worker repeatedly acts or behaves in a discriminatory manner toward you.
The law on hostile work environment
While there is no specific federal hostile work environment law, a hostile work environment is nevertheless prohibited under federal law. A flurry of federal anti discrimination laws prohibit a hostile work environment, such as such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA); the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA); and, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA). Furthermore, there may also be laws enacted at the state level that prohibit a hostile work environment. It may even be that state laws are stricter and offer stronger protections to victims of a hostile work environment.
How to best prove a hostile work environment
Now that we understand what a hostile work environment is, it is important to understand how it can best be proved. If you are bringing a claim of hostile workplace environment, the burden is on you to prove your claim. To do so, you can use various types of evidence like notes you took on the hostile conduct, emails you sent to your supervisors about the behavior, or testimony of coworkers corroborating your story.
There are other important aspects of a hostile workplace environment claim you also need to know. The person bringing the claim must reasonably believe that tolerating the hostile work environment is a condition of maintaining employment. For instance, if a report to the HR department puts an end to the hostile behavior, then a viable claim of a hostile workplace environment is less likely. It is also important that you follow any pertinent guidelines your employer has established, in a handbook or otherwise, regarding hostile behavior in the workplace. If you fail to follow anti-harassment policies, you are weakening your claim, and your employer may be able to use something called the “Faragher-Ellerth defense” if you have brought your claim under Title VII. Under this defense, an employer can claim that it that exercised reasonable care to put an end to the harassing behavior and that the employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of preventive opportunities provided by the employer. On the other hand, if your employer fails to take reasonable action in response to a hostile workplace environment complaint from you, then you may file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the relevant state department authority.
Contact an experienced Hostile Work Environment attorney today
Here at the law offices of Barrett & Farahany, we are well-versed in all aspects of hostile workplace environment claims, whether federal or state. Contact us today for a free consultation.