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Hostile Work Environment
It is not a comfortable experience to work in a hostile environment. It can be even worse when an employee who is suffering feels compelled to remain there because they believe that they have no choice. Their current financial situation may prohibit them from quitting their job and looking elsewhere. Others might be in the job they always wanted and see any harassment as a right of passage or paying one’s dues.
That is not the case. No one should have to suffer through any harassment at work, nor should anyone have to feel uncomfortable at their job because of the actions or behavior of others. There are proper procedures a person can take at work to alleviate the situation, and if those fail, there are legal routes to take as well.
For those who have exhausted their options through their human resources department and management and have found no relief, they should take legal action. Victims should hire an experienced sexual harassment lawyer who will defend a victim’s right to work in an open and non-toxic environment.
What is a Hostile Workplace Environment?
A hostile workplace environment is a situation in which abuse that a person receives is so severe that it makes the daily activity of performing one’s job function difficult. The primary factors involved have to do with a person suffering from sexual harassment or some form of employment discrimination regardless of what it is focused on.
The primary result of this type of harassment is that a person is unable to perform their job or as effectively as they would normally be able to do it. In addition, the victim could suffer from emotional, mental, and physical anguish that could carry over to other aspects of their life. They might find themselves having difficulty sleeping, eating more, or developing stress-related ailments such as an ulcer as a result of the hostile work environment.
According to a recent Gallup poll, about 67 percent of U.S. employees are disengaged at work, with about 51 percent saying that they are looking for a new job. The biggest reason for this disconnect with an employee and their job has to do with their employer. The study found that 70 percent of those who described themselves as disengaged at work say it is because of the environment created by their manager.
How Do I Know that I am in a Hostile Work Environment?
Not every situation constitutes a hostile work environment. A person may not like their coworkers or not appreciate being excluded from offices lunches or other social gatherings. However, although this might be a sign of rude or inconsiderate coworkers, it does not exhibit the signs of a hostile work environment. There are actual examples of a hostile work environment harassment, which includes the following behaviors:
- Discussing sex acts or using sexually suggestive language
- Telling offensive jokes about protected categories of people
- Making unwanted comments on physical qualities
- Displaying racist or sexually inappropriate pictures
- Using slurs or insensitive terms
- Making inappropriate gestures
- Sabotaging an employee’s work or career
- Unwanted touching
In addition, there are legal parameters that will establish a situation as a hostile workplace environment. If any of those occur, legally a worker is employed in a hostile work environment. These include the following:
- The behavior is discriminatory against gender, race, religion, age, orientation, disability, or nation of origin, categories protected by the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC).
- A reasonable person would find the work environment hostile or abusive.
- The conduct has become a pervasive and long-lasting problem.
- The employer has failed to investigate and address the issue.
- The victim’s desire or ability to work has been affected.
- The employer knew about the hostile behavior but did not adequately intervene.
Workers are protected from workplace harassment through a variety of federal laws. Meanwhile, the EEOC enforces those laws as it relates to a hostile work environment on the federal level.
There are also laws at the state level that address the issues of harassment in the workplace. In Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA) prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, ancestry, age, or national origin by employers with more than four employees. The New Jersey version is the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD). This law also makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against employees based on race, national origin, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, pregnancy, and other protected characteristics.
What Should I Do if I Find Myself in a Hostile Work Environment?
If a person believes that they are being subjected to a hostile workplace environment, they should first determine if what they are experiencing meets the legal definition of a hostile work environment. Even if it does not, they still should take steps within the company to alleviate any problems that they are having at work. They might be able to take any legal action as a result.
Moreover, there are times when the most effective solution is the simplest. Anyone uncomfortable at work should speak directly with the person who is causing that distress. It may be that discussing the situation could resolve it. The person may not realize that they are making someone uncomfortable and once it is brought to their attention, may alter their behavior to accommodate the victim.
If an employee does not find any relief by speaking to the individual directly, the next step should be to go to their supervisor, assuming the supervisor is not the person causing the distress. If the manager is the one that is causing the problems or they are retaliating against the employee for complaining, the employee can go up the chain of command to their boss’ supervisor. If that method fails, the victim can also go to the company’s human resources department to report any incidents.
If these methods fail, the victim must then turn to their legal options. They can file a case either with the EEOC or with their respective state in which the company is located. Employees should be aware that the statute of limitations to file a case under NJLAD is two years and only 180 days under the PHRC and with the EEOC.
What can I Seek in a Lawsuit for Workplace Harassment?
When filing a lawsuit against a company that is responsible for creating a hostile workplace environment, an employee can request several types of damages, including monetary rewards and non-monetary rewards. Depending on the type of harm that was inflicted on the victim from their ordeal, they can request compensation for that harm. Among the relief that can be requested, the following damages are included:
- Lost wages: The situation could have caused a person to have to quit their job or take time off work even though they had insufficient vacation time. That could translate into a loss of wages that a victim can recoup through a lawsuit.
- Medical expenses: The anxiety and stress associated with what is going on at work could cause physical and mental ailments that might require medical attention. A lawsuit can seek reimbursement for those expenses so long as the person can prove that they were caused by the incidents at work.
- Pain and suffering: Given the anxiety a person suffers, they could seek a monetary reward to compensate them for the ordeal that had to endure.
- Emotional distress: Similar to pain and suffering, a person can seek a set financial settlement for the emotional turmoil that they experienced.
- Reinstatement: A person who complained about the work environment might have found themselves experiencing wrongful termination from their employment in retaliation for complaining in the first place. The lawsuit can ask that the court reinstate them in that position, assuming they wish to return.
- Non-monetary requests: A person can request that changes be made at the company that will prevent any future situations from arising again. They can request that the company adopt a new policy to address harassment in the future or other changes that will protect workers going forward.
What Circumstances Lead to a Hostile Work Environment?
Most workplaces do not start off as hostile. Oftentimes, it is a slow process that occurs over time. In certain circumstances, it can change because of the introduction of a new employee or manager. It could also occur because of the dismissal of someone. There are several factors that lead to a hostile work environment, including but not limited to the following:
- Poor communication: This seems to be a staple of most offices when a manager fails to inadequately share information with their employees. This can cause employees to feel disconnected from the rest of the company and not have as much vested in it when it comes to their work.
- Workplace inequality: There are a limited number of offices where individuals of a certain race are treated differently than those of another race. It may not necessarily be better or worse, but different. It could be enough to cause a rift among employees, leading to bitterness and resentment among coworkers.
- Unfair appraisal system: This happens when certain employees are rewarded more than other deserving employees. If a person receives higher accommodations than another just because they have a better relationship with the manager, that will also cause friction within the office. It could also make those who are in a manager’s good graces believe they have the clout to throw their weight around.
- Dubious in-house discrimination laws: Although it is good for a company to implement its own anti-discrimination rules, they are only as good as those implementing them. If the rules are optional for a manager, that person may choose to ignore them, making them meaningless.
- Lack of grievance cells: Employees need a place to report any problems with the company in a safe and private environment. They need a place where they can share their feelings without fear of retribution. These also provide an opportunity for them to fix the problems they are experiencing in the office.
- Unequal distribution of employee perks and benefits: Another way to cause discord among employees is to unfairly dispense perks and benefits. Rewarding one group of individuals over another can cause those that did not receive the benefits to believe that the work they are doing is not being appreciated and could result in them failing to commit to their job as much as before.
- Ignoring burnout: A good number of employees put themselves under a significant amount of pressure. They work long hours to get the job done and will occasionally work past their shift, even going so far as to not get paid overtime. An employer who does not see that an employee is pushing themselves too hard could wind up losing that employee and forces others to wonder what they should push themselves if management does not care.
These factors can cause hardship and strife among coworkers, leading to employees who will not wish to come to work anymore or not be as engaged as they should be. If a manager takes more pride in their employees and actively fosters a positive and fair work environment for all, they might be able to avoid a situation from occurring before it turns into a legal matter.
Philadelphia Sexual Harassment Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Guide Clients Through a Traumatic and Difficult Situation
Work is hard enough without having to deal with a hostile work environment. These types of situations make it difficult to get motivated to come to work every day and can cause emotional and psychological problems for those who are trying to cope. This should not be the case. If you are dealing with such trauma and your manager or human resources department is trying to silence you, the Philadelphia sexual harassment lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. will listen and help you receive a resolution that works best for you. Call us today at 215-569-1999 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia and Pennsauken, New Jersey, we serve clients in Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, northeast Philadelphia, Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County, Montgomery County, and Cherry Hill, South Jersey.