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What is a hostile work environment?

Posted on August 16, 2017 | Firm News,Sexual Harassment

Almost everyone has had a job they found unpleasant or coworkers they didn’t get along with. But when does a bad workplace become a hostile work environment?

While it can be hard to get your work done when your coworker plays their music too loudly or your boss ignores you when you ask for help, these behaviors are not illegal. It’s a different story, however, if ongoing harassment by a coworker or supervisor prevents you from being able to do your job.

Under federal employment law, the phrase “hostile work environment” has a very specific meaning as part of a harassment claim. Harassment at your workplace can be considered employment discrimination if:

  • You are the victim of offensive behavior by someone in your workplace. The offending person could be a coworker, a boss or even a customer.
  • The offensive behavior is based on race, color, sex, religion, disability, age or another protected class.
  • The offensive behavior is serious enough that it creates an environment that any reasonable person would see as hostile or intimidating.

It’s important to remember that unwanted behavior does not need to involve physical touch. Harassment is often verbal, involving jokes, slurs or threats. It can also be visual, such as when some displays offensive pictures or cartoons.

If you experience any type of unwanted or offensive behavior at work, it is a good idea to first talk to your human resource department about what can be done. If your employer does not address the problem, you may want to discuss the possibility of a harassment claim with an employment lawyer.