Every employee, no matter what position they are in, the level they are at in their career, or for whom they work, is entitled to a safe and non-hostile work environment. If a work environment becomes hostile, that employee is entitled to pursue legal action.
But, you may wonder, what does and does not constitute “hostile”?
Defining a “Hostile Work Environment”
Under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act, an environment becomes hostile when it consists of inappropriate behavior that is either severe or pervasive enough to create an abusive work atmosphere for one or more employees.
Hostile behaviors can be gender-based or sexual in nature, but can also consist of non-sexual harassment, such as bullying or religious harassment.
Hostile behaviors can be committed by supervisors and non-supervisors alike, as well as non-employees, such as independent contractors and even customers and clients. That said, it is the job of the employer to put a stop to workplace hostility and ensure that each employee enjoys a safe and comfortable space when they come to work.
Examples of Hostile Work Environments
Workplace hostility can take many forms, but there are some more common scenarios that our employees’ rights attorneys are privy to. Some such instances include:
- Your employer or coworker communicates with you using offensive jokes or racial slurs;
- Your employer or coworker demonstrates verbal aggression or anger toward you in the form of yelling, cursing, or other similar means;
- Your employer or coworker exhibits non-verbal aggression or anger toward you (such as slamming work onto your desk in an aggressive manner);
- Your employer or coworker belittles you because of your personal circumstances, ideas, opinions, or work;
- Your employer or coworker messes with your personal belongings;
- Your employer uses unfair tactics to prevent you from advancing within the organization;
- Your employer or coworker stalks you, pesters you, or spies on you; or
- Your employer or coworkers threaten you with termination, physical, emotional, or psychological abuse, or unwarranted punishment if you do not do something that is not within your scope of duties.
Again, workplace hostility can take many different forms, so if you believe that you are a victim of it, it is important that you talk to an attorney right away. A skilled lawyer knows all the signs to look for of a hostile work environment and can help you build your case even when you yourself are unsure if you even have one.
One sure sign of workplace hostility is that the same aggressive or unwanted behaviors continue over time. They are pervasive enough to interfere with your work life and home life, and despite the fact that you brought the issue to attention with HR, nothing has been done to stop it.
When Bullying Becomes Work Environment Harassment
Bullying does not just occur in schools. In fact, according to statistics published in Forbes, 75 percent of adults are the victims of workplace bullying. Not all forms of workplace bullying are worthy of a work environment harassment lawsuit. In order to qualify for a lawsuit, the workplace bullying must meet the following requirements:
- The behavior involves or stems from the fact that you exhibit one or more protected traits (gender, race, age, etc.); and
- The behavior is either severe or pervasive (it does not have to be both).
Under California’s hostile work environment harassment law, a protected trait is any one of the following:
- National origin;
- Marital status;
- Physical or mental disability;
- Medical condition or genetic information;
- Gender identity;
- Sexual orientation; and
- Military/veteran status.
Other Types of Behavior That May be Construed as Hostile
Bullying is not the only type of behavior that can create a hostile work environment. Some other types of behavior that are capable of creating a hostile workplace include:
- Offensive jokes;
- Epithets or name calling;
- Physical threats or assaults;
- Offensive objects or pictures; and
- Interference with work performance.
Again, these actions must be ongoing or severe. One instance in which a coworker insults you is not enough to bring a hostile work environment claim, and nor is one incident of unwanted physical interaction. However, if an incident leaves you fearful about going to work, nervous when along with a particular person, or is severe enough to have affected you physically or emotionally, you may have a case.
What to Do if You Are the Victim of a Hostile Work Environment
If you are the victim of a hostile work environment, you do not have to put up with the hostility any longer. Contact the lawyers at Workplace Rights Law Group today to discuss your legal options.