The modern workplace is a diverse, multilayered landscape. On a day-to-day basis, we have to interact with multiple attitudes and personalities. While we will never be able to get along perfectly with everyone, a certain level of professionalism is necessary to make our work life bearable. Sadly, it does not always work like this. At times we may encounter problems with co-workers or supervisors that lead to a hostile work environment.
Hostile Work Environment in NJ
What is a hostile work environment?
A hostile work environment or hostile workplace is one in which comments or conduct based on gender, race, nationality, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, age or other legally protected characteristics interfere with an employee’s work performance and create an intimidating work environment. This offensive behavior can frequently interfere with the employee’s productivity and self-esteem in and out of the workplace.
A hostile environment can be created by a boss, coworker, contractor, client, vendor or visitor whose behavior makes doing your job impossible. Under federal law, a hostile work environment claim is a workplace discrimination claim. A hostile work environment doesn’t just affect the person being harassed. Other employees who bear witness to the harassment are also victims.
What does a hostile work environment look like?
Harassment in the workplace can have many faces. Most people know about sexual harassment, but there are other types of workplace harassment as well. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines harassment as unwelcome verbal or physical behavior based on race, color, religion, sex, gender or gender identity, nationality, national origin, age (40 and older) and physical or mental disability.
Harassment can come in the form of offensive jokes, name calling, physical or verbal threats, or ridiculing based on the criteria listed above. An example of what behavior in a hostile work environment looks like includes some of the following:
- Using sexually suggestive language
- Telling offensive jokes about a protected class of people
- Displaying racist or sexually inappropriate photos
- Unwanted touching
- Using racial slurs or insensitive terms that make others uncomfortable
- Using inappropriate gestures
- Attempting to sabotage an employee’s career
A workplace is considered hostile when one has to endure the offensive conduct in order to continue employment or when the conduct is so severe and pervasive that a reasonable person considers it intimidating and abusive. If this harassment results in changes to the employee’s salary or status, this is also unlawful workplace harassment.
There are some other criteria that must be met in order for a place to be a hostile work environment. The behavior must:
- Discriminate against a protected class
- Be pervasive over a long, sustained period of time (not isolated incidents)
- Must seriously disrupt the employee’s ability to work or interferes with an employee’s career progress
- The behavior is known about by the employer and the employer does not intervene
Solutions and Resources
What can an employee do when they feel they are subject to a hostile work environment? The first thing an employee should do is make the issue known to their employer. The employee can also file an official complaint with the EEOC. If the problem continues, legal action may be necessary. If an employer retaliates against an employee for filing a hostile work environment claim, a retaliation charge can also be pursued. If the harassment isn’t resolved, victims may consult an attorney to help them pursue their case.
Contact An Experienced Employment Lawyer
Our attorneys at Davison, Eastman, Muñoz, Paone, P.A. in Freehold and Toms River, NJ are well versed in employment law. We can help you understand your rights according to the laws and regulations.