What Is a Hostile Work Environment?

Workplace Discrimination and Employment Law
November 12, 2014
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Every single day, people show up for a job they either love or they hate. Most of the time if it’s a job they hate, it’s because it’s a hostile work environment. Some people don’t even realize this is a real thing and they just take their abuse like they think they should – especially if it’s the boss dolling it out. However, a hostile work environment is a real issue and it comes in all forms. Not only is this something that women can go through, but men as well. Any type of abuse that makes you uncomfortable, feel awkward, not be able to do your job correctly or feel hesitant about coming into work – is not allowed, not right, and there are things you can do the educate yourself. Just look below to see the different types of abuse/harassment and find out what you can do to stop working in a hostile work environment.

Types of Harassment

As anyone that owns a business or has been through it personally will tell you, there are all sorts of harassment types. Unfortunately, there are only certain types that are considered illegal and can be dealt with on a legal basis. The spectrum is pretty wide though and it may include things like sexually suggestive comments or word, sexual or sex-type emails being sent to you, different remarks on or about a person’s age, sex, race or even personal beliefs. It can also be remarks about a person’s physical or mental abilities or disabilities. You should also be aware that any and all physical or sexual threats are also considered to be harassment and can be illegal to do so.

Illegal vs. Illegal

As crazy as it sounds, there are some forms of harassment that are legal, but it’s really few and far between. The best way to tell if your harassment is legal or illegal is to look up your State’s Protected Class laws. These are laws that usually vary by state, and the protected classes or classifications include Race, Sexual Orientation, Gender, Political Affiliation, Pregnancy, Disabilities, and even health issues like HIV and AIDS, as well as Cancer. If you are going through any type of harassment right now, you probably feel pretty relieved, because even though there is some harassment that is “legal” most of the things that people put other people through IS indeed illegal.

Examples:

– If a boss screams at you for wearing your hair a certain way – legal.

– If a boss or peer at work makes fun of you for wearing a cross or another religious symbol – illegal.

– If a boss or peer at work tells you that you look nice – legal.

– If a boss or peer at work sends you an email or says something directly to you that is sexual in content – illegal.

Racial Harassment

This is a type of harassment that violates the Civil Rights Act and is a very serious matter. This includes berating someone on purpose with racial slurs, slang or phrases. Even a person who puts up racially charged videos, pictures or things like swastikas is engaging a sort of harassment. If a co-worker tells jokes or sends out emails with racial jokes, this is harassment – even if it wasn’t sent to an employee that falls under that race. If a co-worker tells one of these crass jokes and an employee overhears it, you do have grounds for a harassment case.

Sexual Harassment

This may not be as obvious as you may think. It’s not just about being flirtatious, sending out emails that are dirty, or making jokes about women, it’s also about any sexually charged actions towards a person who is a male or a female. For example, if a boss, manager or supervisor withholds a promotion for someone who is say, female, for someone who is say, male, or if a boss, manager or supervisor uses these positions as a form of sexual favors – it’s illegal. Other more obvious actions include ogling, making comments about a person’s clothing, looks, body parts, etc. If you have been touched inappropriately in the workplace, a caress, a touch, whatever, and it’s in a suggestive manner, this is sexual harassment and is illegal. Another good example is a co-worker who insistently rubs your shoulders, when you have said no or to stop doing it, is illegal and sexual harassment. If you are having issues that related to this, look into an employment attorney in NJ.

Disability Harassment

This one can be a little harder to see for an outsider, but there are situations where you could be harassed because of a disability. For example, if you work in a position where you are missing a limb, and your boss or co-workers make it physically harder for you to do your job – putting something in your way or doing something to make it an obstacle to get through, this is a form of harassment and a hostile work environment and is illegal. Of course there are many other disability harassment acts, but that is just one of many!

Other Factors

In most cases if a person does something that is considered harassment and you tell them to stop, and they stop, it cannot be taken to court. Sort of crazy if you think about all of the news stories in the headlines today. But, if a person continues to harass you, you do have the right to file a claim.

Employee Response

Generally speaking, it’s a good idea for you as a person that is being harassed, to calmly try to talk to the person who is harassing you and tell them that you want them to stop or that what they are doing is inappropriate, you can also tell them that if it continues you will tell a supervisor. If you feel uncomfortable talking directly to that person, such as in a sexual harassment case, you can tell a manager or go to Human Resources and tell them. Most businesses have an EEO Equal Opportunity Officer that deals with these specific issues. When you tell an EEO or supervisor about the issue, they will try to deal with it in-house, if that doesn’t work, you can file a claim with the EEOC, if that doesn’t work you can hire an employment attorney.

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