What Qualifies as a Hostile Work Environment?

According to The American Institute of Stress, 40% of people indicated their job was very or extremely stressful. One out of four people also said their job was their primary source of stress. Some stress is to be expected due to factors like meeting deadlines, sales goals, etc. However, an increasing number of people are also stressed due to a hostile work environment. If management is creating an unfriendly atmosphere or turning a blind eye, then you should consider legal recourse. You can contact a New York personal injury lawyer, who tends to have experience in workplace litigations.

What Is the Definition of a Hostile Work Environment?

The term “hostile” may mean different things to different people. Some may consider being lectured at by their boss to be hostile. However, when we use the word “hostile,” we are talking about incidences that may constitute legal action.

Federal law prohibits a hostile work environment. At the state level, there is the New York State Human Rights Law, which is essentially the same provisions enforced at the state level. The laws make it a crime to create a discriminatory work environment based on an employee’s color, gender, race, age, ethnicity, and national origin.

Workplace harassment is considered unlawful when the offensive conduct is a condition for continued employment or advancement. An example would be a boss requiring an employee to go out with him for a drink in order to secure a high-commission project.

Any conduct in which an employee feels is pervasive or severe enough to create an environment deemed toxic may also be considered a hostile work environment.

Is the Hostility ongoing?

Generally, incidences have to be ongoing for it to meet the federal and state definition of a hostile environment. A single isolated incident does not rise to the level that meets the threshold unless the incident is very serious. By very serious, this means physical assault or bodily harm.

Factors That Make an Environment Hostile

What kind of conducts meet the level of a hostile environment for which an employee has grounds for legal recourse? Examples include the following:

  • Use of offensive jokes or epithets
  • Physical assaults or threats of assault
  • Mockery or intimidation
  • Insults and constant put-downs
  • Display of offensive pictures

Again, we must stress that these incidences must be recurring and not just a single occurrence. In addition, New York has two additional provisions that must be fulfilled to qualify as a hostile work environment:

  • The above factors were severe enough to alter the employee’s work environment
  • There must be a specific reason for the hostile workplace created against the employee

When examining whether there are sufficient grounds, the court must look at each case and determine the severity, frequency, and whether the harassment had an adverse effect on the employee’s physical/mental well-being and workplace performance.

Who Is the Perpetrator(s)?

The court will also look at the harasser’s status in relation to the victim’s. If the harasser is a supervisor or other superior position, then the employer is strictly liable. By strictly liable, this means he/she is accountable whether the actions were intentional or merely due to negligence.

If the harasser is a coworker of relative equal status, then the employing company is only negligible if it failed to take reasonable action to prevent the hostile work environment.

What to Do if You’re a Victim

If you’re a victim of workplace hostility, then we strongly suggest you keep a written record of incidences and include the date and time. Include as much description as possible and write down the names of the perpetrator(s) and possible witnesses. If there is physical evidence, such as a threatening written note or email, take a picture of it if possible.

We suggest reviewing the company’s policy regarding workplace harassment and contact a lawyer if you feel any of the provisions were violated and no actions were taken by the employer.

Contact a Hostile Worker’s Rights Lawyer

If you believe you have been unlawfully subjected to a hostile workplace, then contact Kantrowitz, Goldhamer & Graifman P.C. A New York hostile work environment lawyer will determine whether you have grounds for a lawsuit. A personal injury lawyer will need to examine the specifics surrounding your case, as no two workplace harassment claims are alike. The consultation is free. We will discuss what legal actions, if any, you are entitled to pursue.

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