You've probably heard the phrase “hostile workplace,” but you might not be certain what that actually means. More than just a nebulous phrase describing a less-than-ideal workplace, “hostile workplace” is a very specific legal term that describes discriminatory working conditions so harmful to an employee's mental or physical health that the employee may be legally entitled to compensation.
What Is a Hostile Workplace?
Contrary to popular belief, a hostile work environment does not mean that you have a bad boss who is disrespectful or yells at you, or that your coworkers don't like you or are rude or uncooperative. In legal terms, a hostile work environment is one in which an employee is targeted for harassment because of race, age, disability, gender, national origin, religion, pregnancy or other protected classification.
For a hostile work environment to truly be illegal, the harmful actions against you:
- Must be severe or be pervasive. One discriminatory remark by a single coworker does not make a work environment hostile, but repeated remarks or touching may.
- Must be serious enough to disrupt your ability to perform your job. A boss who makes offensive jokes or a coworker who initiates inappropriate conversations may not be considered disruptive, but if coworkers constantly make racist or discriminatory jokes or comments toward you, their behavior may be creating a hostile work environment.
- Must be based on a protected characteristic. You must be able to show that harassment by coworkers or managers was because of a protected characteristic, such as race, religion, gender, national origin, age, pregnancy, or disability. Bullying and harassment at work for most other reasons is generally not illegal.
Employees should report illegal harassment to HR and give the employer reasonable opportunity to take action. Generally, the employer must be aware of the harassment and must fail to take action to stop the harassment to be held liable.
If you believe you have been the victim of a hostile work environment, you should speak with a lawyer immediately to discuss your situation. For a complimentary consultation, contact the experienced Atlanta employment attorneys at Barrett & Farahany, LLP at (404) 238-7299.