When it comes to workplace harassment, one thing that can negatively affect both employers and employees is a hostile work environment. A hostile work environment and workplace harassment impacts employees and employers across the country and raises critical questions about the boundaries of professional conduct and the rights of employees. In a world where diversity, equity, and inclusion have risen to new levels of prominence, understanding what constitutes a hostile work environment and in turn, workplace harassment, is essential.
A hostile work environment is generally characterized by persistent and unwelcome behavior. When a hostile work environment is present, employees are also enduring workplace harassment. Typically, employees working in an unlawful hostile work environment are subjected to unwelcome verbal or physical conduct related to their age, disability, pregnancy, race, national origin, religion, gender, and sexual orientation. State and local laws may also provide greater protection for employees. This unwelcome conduct can include offensive, humiliating, abusive, or threatening remarks and inappropriate physical contact. Usually, a hostile work environment means that employees are being harassed. Further, this inappropriate behavior is usually adverse and pervasive in nature, meaning that the employee endures such levels of hostility that a reasonable person would find the workplace environment to be intimidating or offensive.
If an employee’s ability to perform his or her job is affected, or if the employee’s psychological and emotional well-being is harmed due to the unwelcome conduct, there could be a hostile work environment. Notably, the harasser can be anyone inside or outside the workplace, including a supervisor or a coworker or a vendor. Similarly, the victim does not need to be the target of the inappropriate behavior but can be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.
When a claim of hostile work environment is brought to the court, the court evaluates several factors including the frequency of the discriminatory conduct, the severity of the conduct, whether the conduct is physically threatening, humiliating, or a mere offensive utterance, and whether the conduct unreasonably interfered with the employee’s work performance.
If an employee is suffering through a hostile work environment and workplace harassment, there are several steps the employee should take to remedy the harassment. First, the employee should document all instances of harassment, including dates, times, locations, and the individuals involved in the harassment. Second, the employee should report the behavior to a supervisor, human resources, or the appropriate authority within the organization, as stated in the company’s policies and procedures. Finally, if internal remedies do not resolve the issue, an employee may need to seek legal counsel.
Employment laws place a significant burden on employers to maintain workplaces free from discrimination and harassment. Employers can proactively prevent hostile work environments and workplace harassment by:
By maintaining clear anti-discrimination policies, offering comprehensive training, promptly investigating complaints, and taking appropriate corrective actions, employers can not only lessen their liability, but also foster a positive workplace culture and reduce the risk of hostile work environment claims. Creating a safe and inclusive work environment is a win-win for both employees and employers.
Addressing hostile work environments is important for both employees and employers. Whether you’re an employee who has experienced workplace harassment or an employer facing legal action in a hostile work environment case, navigating the legal implications of these claims can be confusing. Contact our experienced attorneys today to guide you through the complexities of a hostile work environment and workplace harassment.
Contributions to this blog by Noa Mor.