Hostile Work Environment
What is a Hostile Work Environment?
A hostile work environment is when a person’s severe conduct impacts an employee’s ability to do his or her job.
The term hostile work environment is truly a term of art and requires a strong understanding of applicable law to assess whether or not one exists. Being uncomfortable or stressed at work simply isn’t enough.
Most of the time, victims of a hostile work environment don’t even realize the seriousness of the problem. It can adversely impact a person’s mental state and their job performance. A hostile work environment is not only disturbing for the victim, but it can affect other coworkers as well.
However, if the stress is caused by mistreatment at work because of you being a member of a protected class, this may be actionable.Your situation can be legally considered as a hostile work environment if it meets any of the following criteria,
- Actions or behaviors that discriminate against protected classes, which include age, gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, disability, or nation of origin.
- The actions occur on a consistent basis over a long period of time.
- Despite the issue being considerable and complaining to the employer and/or human resource, the issue wasn’t resolved.
- The action must be a cause of disruption of work or hindrance in career progress.
- The employer was aware of the actions and behaviors and did not make sufficient effort to resolve it.
It is also illegal to retaliate against an employee after he or she has reported any type of illegal behavior or conduct in the workplace.
Put differently, if you are being mistreated or discriminated against because of your sex, religion, disability, medical condition, national origin, sexual orientation, or speaking up against working conditions this will may lead to a finding of a hostile work environment.
Under FEHA, it is unlawful to harass an employee because of their age, physical disability, mental disability, age, or any of the other characteristics identified under the statute. (Govt. Code § 12940(j)(l).) To state a claim for hostile work environment under FEHA, a plaintiff must allege facts demonstrating that (1) he or she is a member of a protected class, (2) he or she was subjected to unwelcome acts, comments, or physical conduct because of the protected characteristic, (3) such conduct was sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of employment and to create an objectively abusive environment, (4) he or she perceived the conduct abusive, (5) that he or she exhausted their administrative remedies, and (6) that the defendant is liable under the principles of respondeat superior. (Id.; Lyle v. Warner Bros. Television Productions (2006) 38 Cal.4th 264, 279.)
Examples of a Hostile Work Environment
- Inappropriate touching
- Unwelcome jokes
- Sexually suggestive comments
Suing for Hostile Work Environment
If you or your coworkers have to deal with any situation that qualifies as a hostile work environment, you can sue your employer for it. To file a hostile work environment lawsuit against your employer, there a few crucial steps that you need to follow.
When filing a lawsuit, you must be able to prove that you or someone else is subject to a hostile work environment. Without any evidence, your claim has no legal standing, and it can be extremely challenging to prove your employer’s intent. Try to gather as much evidence as you can to support your stance.
Before suing your employer, you should first get help from any of the relevant authority figures at your workplace. Discuss matters with your supervisor or with human resources, and request them to resolve the issue. However, if they fail to do so, you can then go ahead and take legal action.
What should my employer do once I notify them?
Upon learning of your concerns an employer should proceed with an unbiased investigation. Typically these investigations remain confidential but may require the involvement of other employees. An employer’s failure to do so may result in liability for the Failure to Prevent Harassment.
The results of such investigations may be a change in scheduling, discipline, or even the termination of the harasser. As an employee, you are entitled to a safe work environment
My Employer conducted an Investigation but nothing was done – what next?
Too often we see weak, unfair, and sometimes useless investigations take place at a workplace. This may because your boss is protecting someone, or that there simply isn’t anyone qualified to conduct a workplace investigation. More about workplace investigations can be found here.
Hostile Work Environment Lawyers
Hiring a professional lawyer who has dealt with hostile work environment cases in the past can be quite helpful. They can guide you through the process of suing your employer.
There are several federal and state laws that protect victims of a hostile work environment. A lawyer can help you understand the laws that apply to your case. They even have the expertise to negotiate a settlement for your damages.