Hostile Work Environment
The term “hostile work environment” is often used when describing a particularly difficult or abusive work environment. However, not all abusive work environments count as a hostile work environment under the law.
So, how do you know if you have a claim for hostile work environment?
Legally it can occur when a person is harassed based on one of the following fundamental characteristics:
- Religious Creed
- National Origin
- Physical Disability
- Mental Disability
- Medical Condition
- Genetic Information
- Marital Status
- Gender Identity
- Gender Expression
- Sexual Orientation, or
- Veteran Status
It is limited to harassment based only on these classes of people because throughout our nation’s history, there have been times when people have been discriminated against due to their identity within one of these classes. As a result, the legislature decided to make it illegal to discriminate—or harass employees—in the workplace on these bases.
It is important to keep in mind that it isn’t enough to claim that someone made a joke at your expense based on one of the listed classes. Instead, the following must be true:
First, the harassment must be so bad that it alters the conditions of employment and creates an abusive working environment. So a single joke is likely not enough to establish a hostile work environment, but showing ongoing jokes or insults on nearly a daily basis would likely be sufficient to give rise to a claim.
Further, you have to show that an average, reasonable person in your circumstances would have considered the work environment to be hostile or abusive. Courts understand that everyone has different levels of tolerance for harassment. What you may consider to be unacceptable, someone else may find tolerable. But the law demands objective standards, and in order to succeed in your claim, you must show that an average person would agree that the work environment is abusive.
Finally, you must show that your employer is at fault. This element is satisfied if your supervisor was the person who created the hostile work environment. If, however it was a co-worker, you must show that your employer knew about the harassing behavior and did not take immediate and appropriate measures to stop that behavior.