When a boss, manager, supervisor or co-worker’s actions or words create a harassing atmosphere deemed hostile by the courts, your employer could be held liable under civil rights laws protecting employees from a hostile workplace.
Hostile workplace laws and provisions are the result of a number of cases which recognize that the law must step in to prevent employers from misusing their authority in the workplace to create an environment that is discriminatory and egregious enough to interfere with an employee’s ability to perform his or her job.
What Proves a Hostile Workplace?
Proving a hostile workplace also involves sufficient evidence of harassment. Courts will not accept random or isolated incidents as proof of a hostile workplace. Instead, they are moved by incidents which are severe and pervasive and that have occurred over time. When an employee can show that her harassment is more than off-hand remarks, teasing and rude or crude behavior, a hostile work environment case is more likely to succeed.
Indeed, the elements necessary to prove a hostile workplace involve first showing that the employer has discriminated against the complaining employee based on certain protected categories. These are often the protected categories listed in Title VII – race, color, national origin, religion, disability and age. However, there are other protected categories, such as veteran status and gender, sometimes covered in state and other federal laws.
Who Can Sue and Be Sued in a Hostile Workplace Case?
It is important to note, however, that the complaining employee in a hostile workplace case need not be a direct recipient of harassing behavior. Rather, it is possible for a case to succeed even when the complaining employee only witnesses the behavior or speech and it is so severe and pervasive that the witnessing employee is prevented from performing her job. This is because the underlying purpose of anti-harassment laws and provisions is to ensure a safe and productive environment for all U.S. employees.
Another important point concerning the hostile workplace is that in most cases managers, supervisors or other persons who have authority are automatically liable unless they can prove that they did not know or should not have known about the hostility in the workplace.
As for co-workers and others who create hostility in the workplace, an employer could be held liable for their actions as well if an employee successfully shows that the employer knew or should have known about the harassment which created the environment.
A hostile work environment makes it extremely difficult for workers to perform their duties and should not be tolerated. Workers should be aware that they have a right to a work environment free from unlawful hostility and harassment, and that right is protected under federal and state law.