Hostile Work Environment Law & Related Topics

What Is A Hostile Work Environment? How To Know If You Are Experiencing One

Any worker should be aware of his right to work comfortably free from discrimination and harassment. An employee who experiences unwelcome conduct in the workplace may invoke the hostile work environment law. So what is a hostile work environment? It is a situation wherein anybody from the workplace gets discriminatory harassment from the employer, the manager, or from co-workers.

Examples of situations under a hostile work environment which are sexual in nature are:

  • sexually oriented jokes
  • e-mails
  • posters
  • reading materials
  • graffiti
  • situations that involve verbal and physical abuse

Civil rights agencies do have the tool for determining if such case could fall as workplace harassment. They do it by letting another person of the same circumstance feel the same conduct as offensive or not.

The courts interpreted the law to clearly define not just discrimination but also the two forms of harassment which includes:

  1. Quid pro quo harassment or the act of forcefully threatening an employee to be fired or not promoted if the latter rejected an offer to have sex with the supervisor.
  2. Another one is the kind of harassment that involves speech or conduct that is said to be “severe or pervasive” enough to create a “hostile work environment” based on the traditional protected areas like race, religion, sex, disability, sexual orientation, political affiliation, marital status, and citizenship status.

However, not all kinds of teasing and offhand comments are prohibited by law. What the hostile work environment law prohibits is the objectively offensive and severe conditions that affect anybody in the workplace. The situation can be classified as severe or worse if it alters the environment of an individual’s working condition. It is manifested through tangible employment action that results in a hostile work environment. Tangible employment action often involves:

  • Hiring
  • Firing
  • Promotion
  • Demotion
  • Suspension
  • Undesirable reassignment
  • Change in benefits
  • Ohers which may greatly affect one’s working condition

Most often than not, people who fall under this provision are the employers, managers, and supervisors who have the upper hand to make such employment actions.

One cannot easily claim harassment. There are certain elements that the claim must contain before being honored in court. The law provides that the complainant must be part of a statutorily protected class, truly subjected to unwelcome verbal or physical conduct that is related of his being a member of that protected class, and that the unwelcome conduct affected one’s work performance or intimidated an individual and later resulted to an offensive work environment.

An example of a hostile work environment situation is the case of the anti-veteran posting at the Ohio State University. Pictures posted on the office windows facing the corridor discriminated and offended the special disabled veterans of the Vietnam Era. This has allowed a Vietnam era veteran to rip off the posters which he feels offensive and discriminatory to such protected group. This is just one of the many cases that proved how employees or anybody from the workplace can seek comfort in working, away from any discrimination or maltreatment, from anybody in the working environment whether they may be a supervisor or a mere colleague.


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