What Constitutes a Hostile Work Environment?

por Santos Ashmore (2018-11-23)

Many people may believe that their workplace is "hostile" because they feel forced into tolerating the bullying behavior of a co-worker or explosive outbursts from a tyrannical boss. But in order to be considered a hostile working environment from a legal standpoint, several criteria usually need to be in place.

Discriminatory Harassment
In order for workplace harassment victims to claim a Hostile Work Environment, the harassment directed against them must be due to their gender, race, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, genetics, age or religion (protected classes). For example, a saleswoman could legally claim a Hostile Work Environment if she was fired after being denied access to potential clients because her boss entertained new clients exclusively in a "gentleman's club", and only invited male employees along. Another example is that of a male employee who is frequently subjected to unwelcome, intimidating and derogatory homosexual slurs by his co-workers in front of his manager, who does nothing to stop it.

Frequent or Severe Harassment
The discriminatory harassment directed at an employee who is a member of a protected class must also be repetitive and/or severe. One or two instances of discriminatory harassment are not enough to claim a Hostile Work Environment. For example, if a Muslim employee received an email from a co-worker containing a cartoon that depicted Muslims as evil terrorists, he or she may not have legal grounds to file a lawsuit if the co-worker never sent a similar email again. If the co-worker regularly sent offensive emails containing negative images or "jokes" regarding Muslims, the Muslim employee would have a strong case, because the co-worker's pattern of behavior would be legally admissible as evidence of a Hostile Work Environment.

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