Hostile Work Environments
It is a sad fact of life that people tend to mistreat others with alarming regularity. Not all mistreatment is malicious, but it doesn’t need to be malicious to be hurtful and consequential in profound ways. In the workplace, individuals are protected from certain kinds of discrimination and harassment as a matter of law. Federal law, for example, protects against discrimination and harassment based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, pregnancy, disability, age, and genetics. State laws often extend well beyond the protections afforded by federal law. Yet, not all instances of discrimination and harassment give rise to a cause of legal action.
When Are Discrimination and Harassment in the Workplace Actionable?
Because people tend to mistreat each other—in ways large and small—so very often and in ways that cannot always be objectively classified as mistreatment, instances of discrimination and harassment must meet certain criteria in order to be considered legally actionable. Without these standards, the sheer volume of mistreatment that occurs in the workplace would overwhelm the courts and the economy.
Generally speaking, actionable workplace discrimination occurs when someone (an applicant or current worker) is treated unfavorably due to their inclusion in one of the protected classes noted above. By contrast, harassment occurs when someone is subjected to unwelcome verbal or physical conduct by virtue of their inclusion in a protected class. As an experienced sex discrimination lawyer – including those who practice at the law firm of Barry P. Goldberg – can explain in greater detail, harassment usually becomes actionable when the nature of the conduct involved is either so egregious or happens so often that it creates a hostile work environment. Various kinds of discriminatory conduct can also result in the establishment of a hostile work environment.
When Does a Hostile Work Environment Exist?
A hostile work environment is created when the discriminatory or harassing mistreatment that someone is experiencing is either so outrageous or pervasive that an objective person would perceive their work environment as intimidating, abusive, or hostile.
It isn’t always easy to know if the situation that a worker finds themselves in could be properly classified as an actionable hostile work environment or not. This is why it is a good idea to speak with an employment lawyer if you are being mistreated. They will be able to clarify your rights and options for you so that you can make decisions about your situation in a truly informed way.