Do you know what behaviors are considered criteria for a hostile work environment?
Hostile work environment claims fall under workplace discrimination laws. These laws can be vague and subjective. They can be difficult to understand and interpret. Employees may not understand exactly what behaviors are considered criteria for a hostile work environment. Some employees may think they are overreacting, and are not really the victims of a hostile work environment.
In this post, our experienced workplace attorneys at Gordon & Gordon will try to de-mystify what behaviors are considered criteria for a hostile work environment. We will also discuss possible remedies and ramifications for employers who create hostile work environments.
What is a Hostile Work Environment?
The state of Louisiana protects employees from discrimination based on sex, race, gender, national origin, religion, and disability.
Unfortunately, some employers still engage in illegal discrimination when making business decisions. Some employers may also foster an environment where illegal harassment is common.
A work environment becomes hostile when discrimination or harassment becomes so intolerable it affects the terms and conditions of employment. Usually, this means that any reasonable employee would quit their job.
There are several criteria that make a work environment hostile:
What Behaviors Are Considered Criteria For A Hostile Work Environment: Discrimination
An employer being rude or inconsiderate to an employee does not constitute a hostile work environment. Just because behavior is hostile does not mean it is a hostile work environment in the eyes of the law.
The employee must prove that hostile behavior is due to their race, sex, gender, national origin, religion, or disability.
For instance, an employer calling their employee incompetent is not a hostile work environment.
However, if an employer calls the employee a racial slur, that is discrimination and may constitute a hostile work environment.
A further demonstration of the discrimination rule: imagine a man whose company has demoted him. This man happens to be a member of a minority race. This man also believes the demotion was unfair.
Even if the demotion was unfair, it does not mean there is a hostile work environment. The man must prove that the demotion occurred specifically because of his racial identity.
Discrimination definitely includes sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is the most common basis for a hostile work environment. Vulgar or inappropriate comments qualify as gender-based discrimination.
What Behaviors Are Considered Criteria For A Hostile Work Environment: The Reasonable Person Rule
We mentioned the hypothetical reasonable person above. To qualify as a hostile work environment, this hypothetical reasonable person would find the behavior at the workplace abusive or hostile.
This means that if the average person would not be offended by the behavior, it will probably not qualify as a hostile work environment.
For example, most people are not offended by men talking about sports. But say that a woman in an office feels her male coworkers are discriminating against her by talking about sports. If their sports talk is her only evidence of gender-based discrimination, that will likely not hold up in court. This is because the average person would not be offended by the talk of sports.
What Behaviors Are Considered Criteria For A Hostile Work Environment: The Behavior is Pervasive
The behavior in question must be continuous and long-lasting. It must become a condition of employment. This means that in order to go about your normal day at work, you must put up with this hostile behavior.
For the most part, single instances of offensive behavior don’t qualify as a hostile work environment. If your coworker makes one racially-charged or offensive joke towards you, that is not a hostile work environment. However, if the coworker makes these racially-charged remarks every time they see you for months on end, that may constitute a hostile work environment.
However, even if certain behaviors do not make a work environment hostile, they may still be illegal. Sexual harassment, for instance, is illegal whether or not there is a hostile work environment.
What Behaviors Are Considered Criteria For A Hostile Work Environment: No Investigation
The person who is discriminating against or harassing you does not have to be your boss. We will talk more about that farther down.
When you are experiencing a hostile work environment, your first complaint should be to your supervisor, if they are not the one committing the offense. To have a viable hostile work environment claim, you must give your employer a chance to remedy the situation. If you have reported the harassment or discrimination and your employer does not investigate or remedy it, you may have a viable claim. Your employer is now complicit in the offensive behavior.
For example, imagine your coworker is making racist statements at work. You cannot make a hostile work environment claim if you do not report this behavior to your supervisor. You must give your supervisor the chance to investigate and discipline your coworker before you involve the courts.
Even if you feel certain your supervisor will not discipline your coworker, it is important to take this step. Your claim will likely not be viable if you do not.
What Behaviors Are Considered Criteria For A Hostile Work Environment: The Behavior Must Have An Adverse Effect
This offensive behavior in your work environment must be distressing enough that it affects your work.
It is not necessary to prove that the behavior had financial or professional consequences for you. You don’t have to receive a demotion or be fired to prove the behavior has affected your work. However, those are things that will definitely strengthen a claim.
Who Can Create A Hostile Work Environment?
Now we know what behaviors are considered criteria for a hostile work environment. Let’s talk about people who can create a hostile work environment.
Like we said earlier, the offensive behavior does not have to come from your supervisor. The perpetrator could be:
- A supervisor in another department,
- An agent of the employer
- A co-worker, or
- A non-employee, such as a contractor, intern, or regular visitor.
Anyone in your work environment can contribute to a hostile work environment, as long as the behavior meets the criteria above.
What Are Some Examples of Offensive Behavior?
We talked about what behaviors are considered criteria for a hostile work environment. Now we’ll elaborate on what we mean by “offensive behavior” or “hostile behavior”.
Any of the following behaviors can create a hostile work environment:
- Sharing sexual photos, discussing sex acts or making sexual comments. The perpetrator may direct these comments towards the victim, or in the presence of the victim.
- Sexual posters on the wall of a cubicle
- Inappropriate touching
- Telling offensive jokes
- Offering unwanted comments about someone’s appearance
- Using ethnic slurs or insensitive language
- Setting up a Facebook group to shame a colleague
- Sabotaging an employee’s work
- Posting inappropriate photos of a colleague on the internet, even when not at work.
Contact Gordon & Gordon Law Firm
The attorneys at Gordon & Gordon have years of experience in workplace lawsuits. If you are wondering if you have a viable hostile work environment claim, call Gordon & Gordon at 318.716.HELP. You can also leave us a message on our website.