A hostile work environment is a continuous pattern of offensive or unwelcome behavior directed towards an individual worker or a group of workers. This can include creating adverse working conditions due to verbal abuse, intimidation, bullying, hostile comments, emails, and social media postings.
A hostile work environment may continue for months or years without the targeted person reporting it out of fear that they will lose their job if they file a complaint. Lawsuits may be filed against employers who fail to protect employees from harassment that creates a hostile work environment.
A hostile work environment can hurt morale and productivity. The U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) states that this violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects employees from harassment based on race, color, sex, religion, or national origin. Companies are required by law to make every effort to stop hostile behavior while also protecting employees from retaliation.
While some behaviors may be questionable or hurtful, that does not mean they are illegal. Constant negative treatment can lead to a hostile work environment if warnings are ignored and not dealt with by employers. According to the EEOC, minor irritations and annoyances are not considered hostile. However, there is a fine line. No employee should have to dread and fear coming to work because they feel they are going to be discriminated against or harassed. Being harassed creates a hostile environment, making the employee feel unsafe and disrespected by their employer.
When employees are making vulgar, sexually suggestive remarks or actions, then this can create a hostile environment. A random, miscellaneous comment that some would deem as offensive probably would not rise to the level of sexual harassment. However, if the behavior is constant and creates a hostile work environment, you may be able to take legal action if your employer does not remedy the problem.
Similar to sexual harassment, discrimination can cause a hostile work environment if there is a constant barrage of inappropriate racial comments, jokes, and actions.
You may hear stories about a hiring manager who rejects individuals of a certain age, who are female, or who are foreign-born. All of these actions are discriminatory. Not only can this create a prejudice and hostile work environment, but this is also illegal.
People with disabilities may be especially vulnerable to hostile work environments. Workers with disabilities have rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and employers must abide by them. Failure to do so can create a hostile work environment.
It is also critical to train employees who witness illegal incidents to understand how to handle these situations. If an employee experiences any hostile behavior, including threats of violence at their job, they should immediately inform their supervisor. If the employee is not reprimanded, they must escalate the complaint to someone higher in authority.
Ridiculing or Victimization
Constant ridicule of a particular employee or employees with similar racial or sexual characteristics could indicate a hostile work environment. When persistent ridicule is directed at employees, it creates a hostile atmosphere, which may be illegal.
What Should I Do if I am Experiencing a Hostile Work Environment?
Many employees fail to report hostile work environments. Sometimes, employees feel it is just easier to quit their jobs rather than go through the trouble of reporting the problem and exposing the truth. Sometimes, the employer’s work culture has allowed the discriminatory and hostile behavior to get to the point where everyone treats it as “normal.” Some employees do not report incidents due to the fear of retaliation, such as termination, demotions, lack of promotions, and missed bonuses or raises. In some instances, the hostile behaviors are not reported because the employees do not know it is illegal. However, you should also report a hostile work environment.
The first step to take is to report the hostile actions to your supervisor. Employees who speak out help all workers.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act applies to:
- Private and public employers that have at least 15 employees.
- Federal government.
- Employment agencies.
- Labor organizations.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act is also enforced by the EEOC. Employees should know that they have rights in the workplace.
Follow your company policy on reporting harassment that occurs in any form. If you do not follow the proper procedures, your employer cannot attempt to correct the problem.
If you are worried about speaking out or retaliation, you can start by reporting it anonymously. Some businesses have helplines or other resources; some even have employee assistance programs. Another alternative is to speak with other workers who may have been treated the same way. When individuals come together, it can be beneficial when making a report.
What if My Employer Does Not Address My Complaints or Concerns?
If nothing is being done and the hostile work environment continues, collect all the evidence of the harassment. Keep a journal, if possible, including what was said and done, along with the dates and times. Hold on to the evidence, such as suggestive emails, texts, or photographs.
You can contact your local EEOC office, which handles discrimination claims. You can fill out a complaint there, and a representative will help you. Other than contacting the EEOC, the best course of action is to get an experienced employment lawyer. They will protect your rights and tell you the best course of action.
Philadelphia Employment Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Help Employees Who Are in Hostile Work Environments
If you believe you are being subjected to a hostile work environment, reach out to one of our skilled and compassionate Philadelphia employment lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. We can help you with your case. Call us at 215-569-1999 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia and Pennsauken, New Jersey, we serve clients in South Jersey and Southeastern Pennsylvania, including Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, Northeast Philadelphia, Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County, and Montgomery County.