What makes a work environment hostile? A lot of employees do believe that a bully of a boss, impolite co-workers, personal animosity and unreasonable low salary can constitute a hostile work environment. The truth is, however, that a simple adversary dialog, a conflict with management or lack of perks is not enough to claim a hostile work environment. The concept in law is much broader. A number of standards must be achieved to assert that an environment is indeed hostile. So, how can you determine if you’ve come across a hostile work environment?
What is a hostile work environment?
The federal government of the United States describes a hostile work environment as being “offensive, intimidating, or oppressive” to a reasonable person. He or she feels so threatened by one’s behavior that quitting remains just about the last resort. A hostile work environment is also known as an adverse employment action. Actually, it is a form of discrimination. An employee can file a hostile workplace complaint if, for example, he/she work in a complicated and uncomfortable environment created through words or actions of co-workers and/or managers. There is no separate federal “hostile work environment” law. Adverse employment actions are governed by several anti-discrimination statutes including, but not limited to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA). When commencing an adverse employment action, a p-plaintiff must prove that he/she has been treated in a hostile manner.
What makes a work environment hostile?
To be considered illegal and to be treated as proof of a hostile work environment, behavior, actions and/or communications must:
- Be frequent and severe;
Offhand comments and one-off incidents that aren’t extremely severe do not constitute the basis for any hostile work environment claim. Hostility must seriously interfere with work performance.
- Be discriminatory in concept;
They must relate to a protected class of employees. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, “protected classes are men and women on the basis of sex, groups that share a common race, national origin, color, and religion, people with physical and mental handicaps, and people over 40 years old”. A hostile work environment refers only to protected classes!
- Occur as repeated incidents despite the victim’s objections (if it refers to verbal harassment);
- Be abusive and affect conditions of employment.
How to handle a hostile work environment?
Workplace harassment most often occurs as a result of inappropriate behavior and/or communication style and manners of co-workers, managers, supervisors, contractors, customers, etc. who a victim of harassment interacts with at his/her workplace. Some common examples of harassment are:
- discussion of sexual activities;
- inappropriate touching;
- engagement in hostile physical contact;
- telling rude jokes about protected class;
- usage of inappropriate norms of ethics, and many more.
If you feel that you have become a victim of a hostile work environment, we suggest taking the following actions:
- Keep written notes of any incidents of harassment, discrimination, and any other hostile behavior. It is necessary to write down all details: date, time, location, all the circumstances, names of all people involved, names of all witnesses (if any), etc. Keep copies of offending communications (e-mail letters, text messages, voice messages, notes, etc.).
- Talk to a person, who makes your work environment hostile, in private. Explain the situation pointing out how he or she causes the work environment to be hostile for you. Record the conversation. That way you will have proof to support your allegations in the event you decide to initiate a legal action.
- Report the conduct to the appropriate person. If you cannot settle the conflict on your own, report a problem to a supervisor or upper management. Document your report. At this stage you should provide all your notes. Keep a copy of them at home. It would be better if you record your conversation with management to support your complaints.
- Report the problem to the HR department. Provide them with all your logs and records. They usually have a particular process set up to resolve workplace conflicts (including hostile work environment complaints). Reporting harassment at work can be a complicated process, but it is the basis of all further actions. If applicable, hostile environment related incidents should be immediately reported to the police. A copy of the police report should be given to your employer as a part of your hostile work environment complaint.
- Contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), if actions and behavior causing your work environment to be hostile persists. Contact the EEOC counselor within 45 days of the most recent incident. Do remember that the HR department must provide you with the comprehensive information on where to report hostile work environment, including addresses and contacts of the appropriate agency/organization. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is a federal agency that is responsible for investigating hostile work environment complaints. Its main task is to enforce federal laws that that make indiscriminating against a job applicant or an employee because of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability or genetic information illegal. Usually the EEOC counselor would set up a mediation session between a victim and an offending party to discuss a problem and to develop possible solutions. They may include transfer to a different, , assignment of new duties, issuance of the official reprimand, or some punitive damages paid by people responsible for creating a hostile work environment.
- File a formal workplace harassment complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The agency shall investigate each hostile work environment claim and issue a decision within 180 days. You may report hostile work environment to the EEOC in person, over the phone: 1-800-699-4000 or by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. The EEOC also offers an Online Enquiry and Appointment System. This is a web-based tool which helps people, who are going to file hostile work environment complaints, determine, whether the EEOC will be able to provide any additional assistance. If you believe that you have experienced employment discrimination, use the Online Enquiry System to find out if EEOC can address your situation. The Online Appointment System allows you scheduling an interview in person or by telephone with the EEOC staff representative. But do remember that submitting an enquiry is different from filing a formal hostile workplace complaint. The EEOC shall take a remedial action only after a hostile work environment complaint, not an enquiry. Time limits are as follows (holidays and weekends are included in the calculation):
- 180 calendar days from the official date the discrimination took place;
- 45 days from the official date the discrimination took place for both federal employees and job applicants;
- 300 calendar days for age discrimination.Time limits to file hostile work environment complaints can be extended under certain circumstances. The EEOC may file a civil lawsuit against an employer on behalf of a victim.
- Request an appeal hearing with the EEOC administrative judge or file a lawsuit in a federal court if you remain dissatisfied with the decision concerning your hostile work environment complaint. The court also investigates all details of the hostile work environment including such as the frequency of the discriminatory conduct, its severity, if hostile behavior interferes with an employee’s work performance etc. The court is the final authority to deal with.
In conclusion, we want to provide some examples of hostile work environment resignation letters, where victims have to resign because of hostile work environment.
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And one more
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It is up to you how to deal with problems: to quit or to fight. There are no identical cases. But one thing is the same: Everybody has the right to life, liberty, and security of person.
While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal, medical, accounting, investment, or any other professional advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.