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Hostile Work Environment?

Most people have good days and bad days at work. Regardless of the work you do, the co-workers sharing your space, or the company for which you work, you are bound to experience some trouble every so often. Unfortunately for some, troublesome issues are ongoing and their situation has gone from normal work challenges to a downright hostile environment. If you are unable to perform your work or you feel uncomfortable in your work environment on an ongoing basis, you might be faced with a hostile work environment.

Hostile work environments sometimes arise from issues related to gender, race, religion, political beliefs, ethnic origin, age, or sexual orientation. When you are treated poorly because of any of the classifications listed above, you have a right to take action. Under the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VII, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, and the Americans Disabilities Act of 1990, you are entitled to fair treatment in the workplace. If your employer or co-workers violates any of these laws, you have the right to take action.

The US EEOC defines a hostile work environment as follows:

“Harassment is unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. Harassment becomes unlawful where 1) enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or 2) the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive. Anti-discrimination laws also prohibit harassment against individuals in retaliation for filing a discrimination charge, testifying, or participating in any way in an investigation, proceeding, or lawsuit under these laws; or opposing employment practices that they reasonably believe discriminate against individuals, in violation of these laws.

Petty slights, annoyances, and isolated incidents (unless extremely serious) will not rise to the level of illegality. To be unlawful, the conduct must create a work environment that would be intimidating, hostile, or offensive to reasonable people.

Offensive conduct may include, but is not limited to, offensive jokes, slurs, epithets or name calling, physical assaults or threats, intimidation, ridicule or mockery, insults or put-downs, offensive objects or pictures, and interference with work performance. Harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances, including, but not limited to, the following:

•The harasser can be the victim's supervisor, a supervisor in another area, an agent of the employer, a co-worker, or a non-employee.

•The victim does not have to be the person harassed, but can be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.

•Unlawful harassment may occur without economic injury to, or discharge of, the victim.”

It is imperative anyone who feels threatened take immediate action. If you believe your safety is at risk, your first step should be to remove yourself from a situation and contact police. Once you are safe or if there were no safety risks involved in the situation, you can speak with an attorney about your next step. There are time limitations on filing grievances and the longer a problem persists the more difficult it is to resolve. This is why it is so important to take action as soon as possible.

Do You Feel Helpless in Your Work Situation?

Many companies have created policies governing employee interaction. In most cases, these are outlined in an employee handbook and discussed at employee orientation and during ongoing educational events, if necessary. Employees are encouraged to speak with the human resources department or other managing bodies when a situation arises. Sometimes, this is enough to put an end to a problem.

However, if you have spoken to HR or your supervisor and nothing is done to stop the problem, you have the right to take further action. Laws exist to protect your right to a hostility-free work environment. If you have been unable to receive the support and assistance you need to solve a problem at work, speaking to an attorney can help. Bullying in the workplace should not be tolerated and you should be free to do your work in a non-threatening environment.

If you believe you are a victim of workplace bullying or you are working in a hostile environment, we can help. Miller and Steiert’s employment law attorneys advise clients on discrimination issues related to gender, race, age, disability, and more. We will work with you if you have been wrongfully terminated or if you feel threatened or harassed in the workplace. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case.

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