Are You in a Hostile Work Environment?

April 30, 2021
The Law Firm of J.W. Stafford

Hostile work environment” is a phrase that is often used to describe an unpleasant atmosphere in the workplace. Unfortunately, not all difficult situations in the workplace rise to the level of a hostile work environment when it comes to employment law. Difficult bosses, nagging coworkers, or crude jokes do not necessarily mean that you are in a hostile work environment. Understanding what is and what is not a hostile work environment is important when it comes to determining whether you have a potential claim against your employer. If you believe that you are in a hostile work environment, a Maryland employment attorney can evaluate the situation and help you understand your options. 

A Hostile Work Environment Makes It Difficult to Do Your Job

It may be helpful to first start with the effect a hostile work environment has on an employee or several employees. In order to qualify as a hostile work environment, you need to demonstrate that the behavior of your employer or your coworkers makes it very difficult to perform your job as required. To put it another way, the environment in the workplace is contrary to what a reasonable person would expect in a comfortable work environment. 

To be clear, you do not need to be physically held back from performing your duties, although that would certainly qualify. You may be in a hostile work environment if you experience the following on a regular basis: 

  • Fear for your personal or physical safety
  • Intimidation
  • Degradation or belittlement
  • Verbal abuse 
  • Abusive emails or other written communications
  • Comments or jokes involving slurs, stereotypes, or other derogatory comments
  • Gestures, symbols, or offensive images

It is important to keep in mind that the behavior does not necessarily need to be directed to you specifically. For example, a woman may be in a hostile work environment if her coworkers constantly make sexist remarks about women in general. If your work environment causes you to regularly experience anxiety, humiliation, frustration, or other negative emotions, you should speak with a Maryland employment attorney as soon as possible. 

A Hostile Work Environment Involves Discriminatory Behavior

You will also need to demonstrate that the hostile behavior you have experienced is discriminatory in nature. As a result, the hostile behavior must entail comments or actions that are based on one of the following: 

Again, while the behavior does not need to be directed towards you specifically, constant ridicule of people who share your ethnicity could be considered hostile behavior. That said, it may be difficult to pursue a hostile work environment claim if you are not a member of the class that the discriminatory behavior is directed towards. It is also important to note that abusive behavior based on a person’s appearance, weight, intelligence, or personality does not qualify as a hostile work environment. A Maryland employment attorney with experience in handling hostile work environment cases will be able to determine whether you have a claim. 

The Behavior Must Be Persistent or Continuous

Isolated incidents do not create a hostile work environment. While it may be obvious that a single incident where someone makes a racial slur does not create a hostile workplace, it can be difficult to determine when multiple incidents rise to the level of a pattern of harassment and discrimination. For this reason, you should report any such behavior to your employer’s human resources officer. In the event that you need to make a hostile work environment claim, demonstrating that your employer was aware of the situation and failed to take action can help you build your case. If you are not sure what to do about your work environment, you should speak with a Maryland employment attorney.  

Other Factors for Consideration

In the event that you need to pursue a hostile work environment claim, there are other factors that a court may consider: 

  • The severity of the behavior that led to your claim
  • Whether you were ever physically threatened
  • The severity of the effects on your emotional, mental, and psychological well-being
  • Whether multiple people were involved in the behavior, and whether management personnel participated in it

A Maryland employment attorney will know what evidence you need to build your case and get the results you deserve. 

Contact a Maryland Employment Attorney About Your Hostile Work Environment

Maryland employment attorney J.W. Stafford helps workers protect their rights. If you have been subjected to a hostile work environment, he can help – contact us today at  410-514-6099 to discuss your case and your legal options.