The past few years have seen a rise in schools taking action to deter bullying among students. Did you know there’s also a movement to curb bullying in the workplace? According to HR Professionals Magazine, “Based on a study conducted by SHRM, about half (51%) of organizations reported that there had been incidents of bullying in their workplace.” As a result, a number of states have introduced anti-bullying legislation. As of this writing though, none of these new anti-bullying in the workplace laws has passed.
However there are some legal protections already in place to help combat bullying behaviors in the workplace. They fall under the umbrella of what is known as a “hostile work environment.” The legal definition of a hostile work environment is very specific. It doesn’t mean a generally unpleasant atmosphere, or even one in which bullying occurs daily. Some workers think a hostile work environment means one with a hostile manager or boss, which is also not the case. Legal guidelines define a hostile work environment.
Definition of a Hostile Work Environment
There are three main criteria that define a hostile work environment:
- You must be unable to complete your work, or do your job.
- You must be able to prove discrimination of some kind.
- The hostile behavior must be pervasive and long-lasting. A few derogatory remarks, even if discriminatory, do not qualify.
In a hostile work environment, the targeted employee cannot fulfill his or her work duties due to stress or other impediments. The Legal Dictionary defines it as “Unwelcome or offensive behavior in the workplace, which causes one or more employees to feel uncomfortable, scared, or intimidated in their place of employment.”
However, there is a critical distinction; the offensive behavior only creates a hostile work environment if it is also discriminatory. The perpetrator must violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects employees from gender, race, religious, color, and national origin discrimination. Employers are also not allowed to discriminate based on age, genetic information, and disability. In some states, like California, marital status and sexual orientation are also protected from discrimination.
So, if your boss makes fun of your favorite sports team day in and day out to the point where it distracts you from completing your work, that will not constitute a hostile work environment. Even your boss mocking your clothes or the quality of your work does not qualify. However, if your boss continuously makes fun of the way you look based on your race, it will likely be determined that yours is a hostile work environment.
Actions to Take in a Hostile Work Environment
If you feel your employer has created or allowed a hostile work environment, take action. First, make sure the situation meets the criteria: that you are unable to do your job due to harassment and that the harassment is discriminatory and long-lasting.
If these guidelines have been met, then ask the offending employee who is creating the hostile environment to stop. If he or she doesn’t do so, collect any documentation of the harassment that you can. Also, report the discrimination to your human resources department. If there isn’t an HR department, then report it to your manager or supervisor. If the offending party is your manager, then report it to their supervisor.
In many cases, the company will take action to remedy the situation without further legal recourse. If they refuse to do so however, you will need to seek legal counsel in order to file a lawsuit.
If you have further questions about hostile work environments, give our offices a call.