Hostile Work Environments: What Does it Mean for Employees?

May 29, 2018
The Law Firm of J.W. Stafford

Many different types of discrimination are illegal under federal and state civil rights laws. One of the types of discrimination that is prohibited is hostile work environment discrimination. An employee can take legal action against an employer in the event that coworkers or peers create a hostile work environment on the basis of that employee’s protected status, unless employers have policies in place to prevent a hostile work environment, to report such an environment, and to take appropriate action when reports are made.

A Maryland discrimination lawyer can represent workers who are victimized by hostile work environment discrimination and can assist those workers in taking appropriate legal action to hold their companies accountable for damages. Attorneys can help workers to make a determination regarding whether the work conditions they are subject to constitute a hostile work environment. An attorney can also provide assistance in proving that this type of unlawful discrimination occurred and caused harm so workers who are affected can obtain an appropriate legal remedy.

What Does Hostile Work Environment Discrimination Mean?

Not every uncomfortable work environment will give rise to a claim of hostile work environment discrimination.  As the EEOC explains, “petty slights, annoyances, and isolated incidents (unless extremely serious) will not rise to the level of illegality.”

There are a few key questions that are relevant in determining whether a work environment meets the legal definition of a hostile work environment that would give rise to a claim under anti-discrimination laws.

First, the harassment or inappropriate behavior creating a hostile work environment must be based on an employee’s protected status. This means it must relate to some type of characteristic that is covered by civil rights laws, such as race, religion, sex, pregnancy, national origin, being over 40, or having a disability.

Second, the harassment must become severe and pervasive enough that a normal reasonable person would consider it to be hostile or abusive. If an employee happens to be oversensitive, this would not mean that the employee would have a hostile work environment claim – the average person must find the pattern of conduct to be abusive, harassing, or threatening.

The employee must also be in a position where the worker must put up with the harassment in order to stay employed.  For example, if coworkers are harassing an employee every time he or she comes to work, the employee is put into a position where he or she is forced to endure the harassment since the employee can’t just stop coming to work and still keep his or her job.

Examples of harassing conduct that the EEOC indicates could potentially give rise to a hostile work environment claim include name calling, offensive jokes, threats, mockery, insults, physical abuse, interference with work performance, and more. Any employee who is offended by the conduct could pursue a hostile work environment claim, even if that person is not actually the one who is being harassed.

A Maryland discrimination lawyer can provide assistance to workers in understanding their rights, obtaining evidence, and pursuing a hostile work environment claim. Call The Law Firm of J.W. Stafford, L.L.C. at 410-514-6099 or contact us online today for help as soon as you are victimized by workplace harassment that rises to the level of a hostile environment.