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Hostile Work Environment: Examples And What To Do About It


There are various issues that can arise in the workplace regarding harassment and discrimination. One of these issues is when an employer or coworker engages in behaviors that cause hostile working conditions.

Before you try to file a hostile work environment claim, you should know that this type of harassment is generally illegal only if the reason for the negative behavior is based on a protected characteristic such as race, age, gender, national origin, religion or disability.

What Makes a Work Environment Hostile?

A hostile work environment occurs when there is unwelcome conduct from supervisors, coworkers - and even customers or clients - which renders the workplace intimidating or offensive.

Examples of a Hostile Work Environment

There are a variety of situations in which an employee may be exposed to a hostile work environment. But, there are certain common examples of improper workplace behavior that may be illegal under Federal or California law.

A hostile workplace environment can constitute any of the following:

  1. Discussing sexual activities,
  2. Telling off-color, inappropriate, jokes regarding sensitive topics like race or gender,
  3. Using demeaning terms or epithets,
  4. Using indecent gestures,
  5. Engaging in inappropriate touching
  6. Interfering with another employee's work.

These are some of the most common examples of a hostile work environment, but there are others in which to be aware.

A hostile workplace can be exacerbated when an employer, by way of a manager or human resources, fails to stop improper harassment or behavior against an employee. Either supporting, condoning, or failing to stop, inappropriate behavior in the workplace can make the employer itself responsible for charges relating to a hostile workplace environment. A supervisor engaging in such behavior can also make the employer responsible for hostile work environment claims.

Filing Hostile Work Environment Claims

The facts of each hostile work environment case are very different, so it can be difficult to determine what sort of offensive conduct may have occurred and when, and the full extent of those offensives. Additionally, the nature of the employer's actual involvement or failure to stop illegal harassment or discrimination can require detailed exploration of the facts at hand.

In order to be actionable, conduct supporting a hostile work environment claim must be either severe or pervasive. That is, it has to be egregious or frequent/widespread. If an employee subjectively feels that he or she has been abused and the issues are pervasive or severe enough to establish a hostile workplace environment, the employee should seek help from an expert employment attorney in order to file a claim.

If an employer, generally through its human resources department, fails to remediate a harassment issue, the employer itself can be liable to the victimized employee. Plus, the employer has a duty to make reasonable steps to stop, remediate, and eliminate discrimination in a prompt manner.

Coworkers who may be subjected to hostile conditions can also report discriminatory behavior with management or human resources in order to prove a claim. Sometimes the original victim of discrimination or harassment may be afraid of speaking out.Whether a complaint comes from a victim or even a bystander, employers must be willing to investigate and resolve discrimination and hostile workplace claims.

Under both Federal and California law, your employer is required to have discrimination or harassment policies in place if the employer is sufficiently large. Be sure to review those policies to determine how best to report potential harassment and to ensure that the company itself is following the policies.

Hostile Work Environment Laws: Additional Resources

  • California Department of Fair Employment and Housing: Complaint Process
  • Hostile Work Environment Laws in California: What You Need to Know
  • Harassment: Employer Liability via EEOC.gov
  • What Factors Determine a Hostile Workplace Environment? via FreeAdvice.com

No one should be subjected to hostile behaviors at work. If you feel you are a victim of unlawful hostile working conditions, contact the passionate California hostile work environment attorneys at Hennig Ruiz for your free consultation today.

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