When a boss, manager, supervisor or co-worker’s actions or words create a discriminatory or harassing atmosphere deemed hostile by the courts, your employer could be held liable under civil rights laws protecting employees from a hostile workplace.
Hostile workplace laws and provisions are the result of a number of cases which recognize that the law must step in to prevent employers from misusing their authority in the workplace to create an environment that is discriminatory and egregious enough to interfere with an employee’s ability to perform his or her job.
A hostile workplace can arise in a variety of forms, and one of the most well-known is the discriminatory environment of sexual harassment. When an employer’s speech or conduct pertaining to the sex of an employee becomes so severe and pervasive that it prevents her from carrying out job duties, courts may find that the employer is liable for creating a discriminatory hostile work environment involving sexual harassment.
Indeed, the elements necessary to prove a hostile workplace involve first showing that the employer has discriminated against the complaining employee based on certain protected categories. These are often the protected categories listed in Title VII – race, color, national origin, religion, disability and age. However, there are other protected categories, such as veteran status and gender, sometimes covered in state and other federal laws.
Proving a hostile workplace also involves sufficient evidence of harassment. Courts will not accept random or isolated incidents as proof of a hostile workplace. Instead, they are moved by incidents which are severe and pervasive and that have occurred over time. When an employee can show that her harassment is more than off-hand remarks, teasing and rude or crude behavior, a hostile work environment case is more likely to succeed.
It is important to note, however, that the complaining employee in a hostile workplace case need not be a direct recipient of harassing behavior. Rather, it is possible for a case to succeed even when the complaining employee only witnesses the behavior or speech and it is so severe and pervasive that the witnessing employee is prevented from performing her job. This is because the underlying purpose of anti-harassment laws and provisions is to ensure a safe and productive environment for all U.S. employees.
Another important point concerning the hostile workplace is that in most cases managers, supervisors or other persons who have authority are automatically liable unless they can prove that they did not know or should not have known about the hostility in the workplace.
As for co-workers and others who create hostility in the workplace, an employer could be held liable for their actions as well if an employee successfully shows that the employer knew or should have known about the harassment which created the environment.
If you feel you have been subject to discrimination or a hostile work environment, please call the attorneys at Tash Law Group for a free consultation. Our offices generally represent clients on a contingency fee basis. This means that there is generally no fee for representation unless we obtain money for our clients.