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What Is a Hostile Work Environment?

Some people mistakenly believe that a hostile work environment can be simply an unpleasant boss, rude coworkers, or if you have been refused a promotion or raise. While negative surroundings and the unavailability of upward mobility can undoubtedly contribute to a hostile work environment, it often doesn’t rise to the legal definition of one.

Legal Definition of a Hostile Work Environment

There are specific criteria that must be met to create a hostile work environment. Firstly, a supervisor, boss, or coworker must be engaged in unreasonable behavior or communication that is discriminatory in nature. If you are questioning what rises to discrimination, it is essential to look to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which is the authority in defining workplace discrimination.

  • A hostile work environment is defined as:

  • Actions or behavior that discriminate against a protected class such as age, religion, disability, race, or sex.

  • The behavior is pervasive, lasting, and repeated over time.

  • The action was not addressed adequately within the company, or they did not intervene.

  • The behavior has severely disrupted the employee’s work.

For example, A boss at Company A routinely makes jokes regarding an employee’s race. The employee doesn’t feel threatened or fearful, but the discriminatory comments said in jest are still hurtful. These jokes last for months and have become a daily issue, causing the employee to be unable to complete specific tasks due to constant disruption. The employee has asked the boss to stop and brought it up to Human Resources, who has not taken any action. This is a prime example of a hostile work environment.

What Do You Do?

If you feel your workplace is a hostile work environment due to a coworker or boss’s comments, there are things you can do. First and foremost, ask the person to stop making discriminatory comments. When you point out the inappropriate behavior, it may be enough to end it altogether.

If the action continues, make sure to create a written record of every time it occurs. You will also want to schedule a consultation with an experienced attorney who understands employment law. During the consultation, you can bring your written log and speak about the behavior of your boss or coworkers at work. The attorney can let you know if the actions rise to the level of a hostile work environment and how to address the issue moving forward.

Do you work in a hostile work environment? Contact the Law Offices of Tanya Gomerman to schedule a FREE consultation to discuss your case. Call 415-545-8608 today!

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