How to Prove a Case of Hostile Work Environment

Harassment is never welcome in the workplace. In New York, a series of state and federal laws protect workers from harassment or discrimination based on a number of protected classes. Both state Human Rights laws and the federal Civil Rights Act prohibit this type of harassment or discrimination at work.

Unfortunately, hostile workplaces still exist in New York. Regardless of the protections built into the law, harassment and discrimination are common features in many workplaces across the state. The good news is that, with the help of an employment lawyer, you may be able to hold your employer accountable for allowing a hostile work environment to fester.

Making an allegation of a hostile work environment is one thing; proving it is another. Below, we discuss the steps for proving a hostile work environment.

Step 1. Understand what makes a hostile work environment

Before you can bring a case for a hostile work environment, it is important to understand what type of treatment is outlawed. It is unlawful to discriminate on any of the following grounds:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Ethnicity
  • National origin
  • Age
  • Disability, or
  • Genetic information

While isolated incidents of harassment should never happen, they do not meet the definition of a hostile work environment. This harassment must be pervasive and ongoing. Generally speaking, workplace harassment is unlawful when:

  • Enduring the harassment is required to maintain your employment, or
  • The harassment is so severe that a reasonable person would consider the workplace climate to be hostile

If you have endured the treatment described above, you might be a victim of a hostile work environment. The next steps involve building the case against your employer.

Step 2. Hire an employment lawyer

Before you take another step in the process, it is in your best interest to discuss your claim with an employment lawyer. An experienced attorney can put your claims into context as well as guide you on the strength of your claim. Your attorney can walk you through the next steps of the process, which include gathering evidence.

Step 3. Investigate your claims and gather evidence

The crux of proving a hostile work environment case is evidence of the harassment. You should preserve any e-mails or voicemails that demonstrate harassing language. These communications do not have to take place at home, as any harassing treatment that extends from the workplace to your home qualifies as evidence.

It is also important to keep a record of any efforts to report the harassment to your employer. If you filed a formal complaint with a supervisor or the human resources department, your employer was on notice of the hostile work environment. A jury is likely to lend credence to your claim if you can document that you notified your employer of the hostile work environment long before you file a lawsuit.

You should also make a log of any harassment or threats that were not recorded. By keeping track of these incidents, you can provide a jury with evidence that this was not a one-off incident. Be sure to identify any witnesses that might have seen these interactions, as they could be called at trial to testify.

Step 4. File suit

Once your case is ready to go, your attorney can file a lawsuit against your employer. If you are filing under federal discrimination laws your case will be heard in federal court. Otherwise, your claim will be heard in state court. If your lawsuit is ultimately successful, you could recover monetary damages for the treatment you faced at work.

Discuss your case with an experienced New York & New Jersey hostile work environment attorney

You deserve to go to work without fear of harassment or discrimination. When your treatment becomes too much to bear, it is time to make the call to a qualified Employment Lawyer.

Since 1975, the experienced employment attorneys of Kantrowitz, Goldhamer, & Graifman, P.C. have built a reputation as a successful advocate for New York workers. To learn more about how our team can help you deal with a hostile work environment, call today to schedule your initial consultation.