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hostile work environment

What Constitutes a Hostile Work Environment?

A hostile work environment is something no one wants to experience. Unfortunately, it occurs in every profession all over the world. It is more than just common annoyances at work. It occurs when the behavior of someone in the workplace makes the environment uncomfortable or difficult for another employee. Sexual harassment is one of the more common examples of a hostile work environment. At Ybarra Maldonado Law Group, we take hostile work environment claims as a very urgent and serious matter. If you believe yourself to be working in a hostile environment, let us help you. We want to ensure you can return to work feeling comfortable and safe. In this post, we’ll further explain what constitutes a hostile work environment.

Definition Of Hostile Work Environment

Providing an exact definition of a hostile work environment can be tricky. This is because it is a relatively subjective term. What may be hostile or offensive to one individual may not affect another in the same way. So what constitutes a hostile work environment?

The legal definition of a hostile work environment is as follows:

“An unwelcome or offensive behavior in the workplace, which causes one or more employees to feel uncomfortable, scared, or intimidated in their place of employment.”

You may also hear a hostile work environment referred to as an offensive, toxic, or abusive work environment. The behavior that creates a hostile work environment can be an action or any form of communication. The behavior is often inappropriate and may leave an individual feeling that their safety, character, or emotional wellbeing has become threatened. 

What Behaviors Are Considered Criteria For A Hostile Work Environment?

There are certain criteria that a work environment must meet to be hostile. To have a successful claim, you must prove you were discriminated against in the workplace. For example, you may have been discriminated against in one or more of the following ways:

  • Race
  • Religion
  • Gender
  • Age
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Disability
  • Ancestry
  • National Origin

Women who are pregnant also often experience workplace discrimination. Discrimination based on pregnancy is also a legal grounds for a hostile work environment. 

You must also prove that the behavior you experienced was serious enough to fit criteria for abuse. Again, determining abuse is not always easy. This is hard to define because again, what constitutes a hostile work environment can be so subjective. In this respect, to determine abuse a reasonable person must find the behavior to be hostile. The behavior must also prove to leave a harmful impact on the individual filing the claim. This may mean it negatively affects their performance at work or their physical or mental wellbeing. 

The hostile action or communication must be consistent. It has to occur on a continual basis where you are able to cite multiple instances of inappropriate behavior. As unfortunate as it is, this disqualifies any one-time occurrences. 

When the harassment proves to be recurring, that is when you would take the next step to inform your supervisor. Once they’re notified, they have a responsibility to remedy the situation within a certain amount of time. If nothing is done to change or remove the behavior, you would move forward with filing a formal complaint. 

Examples Of A Hostile Work Environment

It would be nearly impossible to list every possible scenario of a hostile work environment. Every situation is different and personal to the individual filing the complaint. There do seem to be a few recurring examples when it comes to these types of claims, though. These examples include but are certainly not limited to the following:

  • Sharing images or videos of a sexual nature, including pornography
  • Unsolicited touching
  • Asking indecent questions
  • Implying inappropriate or sexual scenarios
  • Explicit and unwarranted language 
  • Invading someone’s personal space or property
  • Harmful or sexual threats
  • Use of slurs, remarks, or other language that is offensive to a group or classification of people
  • Making unwarranted and inappropriate remarks about a person’s appearance
  • Obscene gestures or jokes aimed at a particular person or group of people
  • Hanging or displaying indecent or explicit material (pornographic posters, etc.) in the workplace

The perpetrator of the hostility can be anyone from a coworker, employer, supervisor, intern, or any other person who regularly visits and has access to your work environment. 

How To File A Hostile Work Environment Claim

To protect workers from workplace hostility, state and federal laws are in place. If notifying your employer or supervisor did nothing to improve the situation, you may want to file a hostile work environment claim. Despite whether they are the ones conducting the inappropriate behavior, they had a responsibility to fix the situation. If they chose not to, they may be liable in a hostile work environment lawsuit. 

However, if they were not the perpetrator and they were never made aware of the situation before a lawsuit was filed, the court may not hold them responsible for it. It is important that they were made aware of the situation and did nothing to improve it before you take the next steps in filing a claim.

The claim itself would fall under the category of workplace discrimination. You will need to file this discimination claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In many work environments, there is already a process in place for employees to submit grievances or complaints. If you aren’t aware of this process, ask your employer for the proper submission process. 

Hostile Work Environment Lawsuit

If you’re planning to file a lawsuit, you’ll want to make sure you’re prepared to provide evidence. This is why it’s important to keep detailed records of any hostile instances that occurred at work. Documenting as much information as you can gather can help you provide the evidence needed in a court of law. This may be anything from journal entries with dates and details of the occurrence, photos or videos, or screenshots of inappropriate messages or emails. 

In addition to this, you should also hold on to any evidence that shows your employer was aware of the situation. Any witnesses to the behavior will also be useful in proving guilt. All of this evidence will help your attorney in delivering your case.

Contact Ybarra Maldonado Law Group Today

If you are in the Phoenix, AZ area and have been a victim of a hostile work environment, let us help you. At Ybarra Maldonado Law Group, we fight aggressively for our clients so that they can focus on their own wellbeing. If you feel your wellbeing is compromised due to hostility in the workplace, you need one of our experienced attorneys on your side. Call or text us today at 602-910-4040. You can also fill out an online form to receive a free consultation.

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