By John V. Berry, www.berrylegal.com
We represent employees in hostile work environment claims. Employees regularly ask us what constitutes a hostile work environment in the workplace. The topic and definition of a hostile work environment can be confusing to many individuals. It is often the case that many employees believe that general bad behavior exhibited by a supervisor or co-worker constitutes a hostile work environment claim for purposes of filing an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaint. However, an EEO complaint based on hostile work environment must also involve actions taken as a result of discriminatory behavior.
In short, a hostile work environment involving a supervisor that is mean, obnoxious, or otherwise terrible to work for, without the key element of discrimination as the basis for the conduct, is not necessarily an actionable EEO hostile work environment case. Employees can and do suffer from an unpleasant or difficult work environment for reasons other than unlawful discrimination. While such conduct is very inappropriate and unfortunate, it may not always provide a claim for an EEO complaint.
In order to show a hostile work environment for the purpose of filing an EEO complaint, employees generally need to show the following:
1. The employment actions taken were discriminatory or harassed them based on their race, religion, national origin, gender, age, retaliation, etc.;
2. They were subject to harassment (verbal or physical) as a result of the discrimination;
3. The discrimination is pervasive. In other words, it persists over a period of time;
4. The hostile behavior is severe; and
5. The employer knew or should have known about the discriminatory behavior.
The following are a just a few examples of potential hostile work environment types of cases:
1. An employee, who is an older man, age 64, is subject to constant ridicule in the office by his supervisor for work-related mistakes due to his age. His supervisor often makes fun of him in front of everyone in the office and jokes that “he should retire.” The employee reports the situation to the company's human resources department, which does not address the issues at all, and the supervisor continues his/her harassing behavior for several months.
2. An employee, who is African-American, is subject to repeated offensive racial comments at work by a supervisor in front of other employees. She is the subject of racist jokes on a weekly basis.The employee takes the matter to her main supervisor who declines to take any action, ignoring the complaint. The supervisor feels emboldened and continues his/her discriminatory behavior, causing emotional distress.
3. An employee, who is a younger female, is consistently asked out for dates by a male co-worker even though she has previously politely declined these requests. The employee then begins to receive emails, flowers and notes on her office door from the co-worker with inappropriate remarks, continuing to attempt to pursue a relationship. She reports the harassment to her manager, who takes no action in the matter, and the harassment continues.
The examples here of different types of a hostile work environment are too numerous to provide every example, but the harassing behavior has to involve discrimination based on race, religion, gender, national origin, retaliation or other protected categories. Again, if a supervisor or co-worker is hostile, rude, or even engages in bizarre behavior, it may not rise to the level of an actionable EEO hostile work environment case. Additionally, it is important for management to be made aware of the harassing conduct as soon as possible, preferably in writing.
If you need assistance with filing a claim of hostile work environment or representation for discrimination claims, please contact our office at (703) 668-0070 or at www.berrylegal.com to schedule a consultation. Please also like and visit us on Facebook page.
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