Is a Hostile Work Environment Illegal?

Most people have experienced a terrible day at the office. Disagreements with other employees can often create an uncomfortable situation at work. In some circumstances, the hostility in a work environment goes far beyond basic discomfort.

If you’re worried that you might be dealing with a hostile work environment, it’s important to contact a qualified attorney. At Leeds Brown Law, P.C., we have experience handling a variety of cases involving a hostile work environment.

What Constitutes a Hostile Work Environment?

Everyone has different boundaries. Therefore, what one person considers hostile, another might consider no big deal. That’s why there are legal boundaries that help to define a hostile workplace. The American Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination and Employment Act, and the Civil Rights Act all created laws that help to protect employees against hostilities in the workplace.

When you go to work, you have the legal right to be free of harassment, intimidation, or unfair treatment. Harassment or unfair treatment could include discrimination based on your sexual orientation, gender, religious beliefs, age, or disabilities. It could also include sexual harassment or coercion from coworkers or superiors.

A legal case for a hostile work environment will usually involve a rather serious situation. In most cases, single incidents of abuse get worked out within the company. The offender will be fired or reprimanded, and the victim will then be able to continue doing their job. When the company fails to handle the problem, or when the victim can’t seek help from the company out of fear, then it’s time for legal intervention.

What Doesn’t Count as a Hostile Work Environment?

To create a valid legal claim, you’ll need to be able to show that you’re being discriminated against. The discrimination must be due to your protected class. If your coworkers are mean to you because they don’t like your taste in clothing or makeup, that is not discrimination. That is a personal issue that you’ll need to work out on your own. You can do that by talking to your coworkers or taking the problem to human resources.

Likewise, you might be having other issues at work that don’t contribute to a hostile work environment. For example, if you live in a state that requires breaks, and your boss is refusing to allow you to break for lunch, then you might have legal justification for a lawsuit. However, the basis for the suit would be a violation of the state’s labor laws, not a hostile work environment.

What Should You Do if You Believe Your Work Environment is Hostile?

If you believe you’re facing discrimination or sexual harassment, your first step will be to report the problem to your employer. If your direct superior is the source of the problem, you’ll need to contact the person above them. This may mean calling your company’s corporate office or speaking to the team in human resources. Your company’s employee handbook should have detailed information on what to do in this scenario.

Document everything you can. Write down the details of each incident that occurred while the memories are fresh in your mind. Note down names of all involved, including anyone who may have witnessed the incidents.

It’s your employer’s responsibility to put a stop to the problem once a report is made. This may mean firing or otherwise disciplining the offending parties, moving you to a different department, or any other solution that guarantees the mistreatment will stop. If your employer fails to take action, your next step is to contact an attorney.

Leeds Brown Law, P.C. is a leader in employment law. We understand how frightening workplace discrimination and harassment can be, and we’re here to help. We serve clients in the five boroughs and surrounding areas of New York. Please give us a call today at 1-866-951-1176, or take a moment to fill out our online contact form. We’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

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