What Is a Hostile Work Environment?

A hostile work environment exists when an employee or employees cannot reasonably perform their work duties due to the hostile actions of their co-workers and/or supervisors. Such actions might include:

  • Sexual harassment
  • Physical harassment
  • Verbal harassment
  • Threats or intimidation
  • Discrimination based on an employee’s race, national origin, sex, gender, age, religion, disability, sexual orientation or other legally protected characteristic
  • Retaliation for reporting safety violations, notifying upper management about an issue at work, filing a workers’ compensation claim, joining a union or acting as a whistleblower

Retaliatory actions might include writing up employees for rules they didn’t break, changing employees’ schedules to include hours they can’t work, and reducing employees’ hours or cutting their pay. If you are being harassed, threatened, intimidated or discriminated against because of a legally protected characteristic, or if you are the victim of retaliation, you may have cause for an employment lawsuit.

What Employees Should Do If They Encounter a Hostile Work Environment

If someone at work says or does something offensive — such as telling a racist or sexist joke, making fun of religious garments, displaying offensive pictures, making unwelcome sexual advances, or requesting sexual favors — tell them to stop. If the behavior continues, write down all incidents (dates, times, who did or said what, who witnessed it, etc.) and report the issue to management. Ask management for written evidence that your complaint has been investigated and request that you be informed of the actions taken to address the situation. In the event a supervisor takes any retaliatory actions against you, notify upper management immediately and record what actions your supervisor took and when.

If management does nothing to resolve the situation, or if at any point you feel your safety and/or job are in imminent danger, contact an experienced Monmouth County business attorney to learn about your legal options.

What Employers Should Do If They Receive a Complaint About a Hostile Work Environment

If your company has an equal opportunity officer, immediately report the employee’s complaint to that officer. You will need to investigate the complaint and determine whether a hostile work environment exists, who and what is causing the hostile work environment, and how the problem can be corrected. Corrective actions might include:

  • Reviewing and revising your company’s discrimination and harassment policies
  • Reminding employees about such policies, perhaps in a staff meeting
  • Providing additional training to employees about hostile work environments and how to prevent them
  • Taking appropriate disciplinary action against any employees and/or supervisors who have contributed to the hostile work environment
  • Notifying the complaining employee about the results of the investigation and what actions are being taken
  • If the employee was retaliated against by a supervisor, reinstating lost privileges or benefits, as well as the employee’s former pay rate and schedule, and removing any retaliatory write-ups from his or her file

If your business is facing an employment lawsuit over an alleged hostile work environment, or if you need assistance developing your company’s internal procedures for dealing with discrimination and harassment complaints, contact a qualified Monmouth County business lawyer today.