Can I Sue My Employer for a Hostile Work Environment?
Do you ever feel like your workplace has become a hostile environment?
Do your boss and or your co-workers ever act in ways that make you feel uncomfortable?
Do you feel that your work environment has negatively affected your career or personal life?
Do you feel unsafe when at work?
Have you thought about taking legal action?
If so, then you are not alone. Many people face the same situation every day. Here’s an example of a complaint that someone posted on an online legal discussion board:
“My co-workers have been allowed to spread vicious rumors about me. The rumors were about me, my husband, and another co-worker which lead to my co-worker being fired. One of my co-workers went so far as to start sending me text messages, and I had to have a police report filed. Because of the rumors I do not feel safe at work and my reputation has greatly suffered. None of the rumors are true and when my co-worker was fired she was told it was because of what was being said.”
But what are my rights? What action can be taken? Can I sue my job? Is my employer responsible for what goes on under their supervision? Do I have a right to work in an environment that is not hostile?
Well, there is no simple answer to these and many other questions that come up when discussing legal action against an employer because of a work environment situation. In many cases an employee may simply have put up with a certain amount of discomfort in order to keep their job. For instance, an employer or co-workers simply being mean or hard to get along with often times is just part of having a job in the real world and something one just has to deal with if they want to have a certain job. But there is a line that can be crossed where the treatment of the employee or co-worker may become abusive and violate their rights.
In the example above it seems that the complainant may have a legitimate case to sue their employer. The person was not only made to feel uncomfortable, but the situation escalated to the point to where they felt unsafe, even to the point of filing a police report. If the harassment came solely from a co-worker, then a legal suit may only be able to be filed against the individual. But in this case it seems that the employer may have been aware of the situation and not stepped in to try and resolve the matter and do what they could to protect the one employee from their co-worker. So the suit may be brought against the employer because they are ultimately responsible for what takes place under their supervision. (They may also have a claim of “defamation” which will be a topic for another day.)
But in my situation does it constitute as being a hostile work environment?
A hostile work environment is a legal term that means there is ongoing unlawful harassment. Unlawful harassment has to be based one of more of certain protected categories, such as sex, race, disability, religion, age (40 and over), pregnancy, or genetic information. Harassment can include verbal derogatory comment, slurs, conduct, comments or questions about a person’s body, appearance, religious, or sexual activity. Harassment can also include offensive gestures, sexually suggestive eye contact or looks, mimicking the employee in an insulting way, and derogatory or graphic pictures, cartoons or drawings. A hostile work environment is also created when an employee is made to feel unsafe and in some danger of having some harm done against them. But it must be a real threat of harm and not just discomfort.
Harassment is unlawful when the conduct is either severe or pervasive enough to create an abusive environment. Severe conduct would include most physical contact and many types of threatening, degrading, or vulgar conduct. Pervasive conduct is widespread and happens frequently and or in many situations. One offensive statement is not pervasive, but the same comment made over and over again may be pervasive.
Determining whether a given work environment meets the legal qualifications of being considered as hostile and subject to legal action being taken is a complicated and complex task. That is why it is essential to seek the help of a good worker’s compensation attorney if you have a complaint against your employer and or co-workers.
Attorney Evan Hoffman of south Florida is highly experienced with job-related lawsuits and he can give you a free consultation and determine whether your case might qualify for legal action.
Evan A. Hoffman
Mr. Hoffman’s philosophy is "our knowledge and experience is your best defense." He has been a featured author on criminal law issues such as driving under the influence, domestic violence and illegal searches.Read More