Normal levels of stress and anxiety are natural aspects of virtually any job, but there are situations where employers are responsible for hostile work conditions or allow these conditions to exist. While employees may be able to assert a hostile work environment claim under certain circumstances, simply having a crabby, disgruntled boss does not inherently mean your workplace is hostile as defined by the law.
If you are questioning the legality of your working conditions, it may help to consider whether the stress and anxiety you’re feeling is reasonable, understood, or expected as part of what your position entails. Whether it’s meeting tight deadlines, working with clients, or coming up with ideas for a new marketing initiative, you should be honest with yourself and think about whether what you’re experiencing rises above the normal expectations.
Hostile work environments are real and need to be taken seriously. However, as previously mentioned, it’s important not to confuse ‘hostile’ with ‘unfriendly.’ An unfriendly boss might not give you the time of day when you try to talk about your weekend. In contrast, a boss’s inappropriate jokes or comments about seeing you in your party dress may make an environment hostile. Offensive language, slurs, name calling/insults, discrimination, and unwanted touching/physical interaction are all actions that may create a hostile work environment and grounds for legal repercussions.
Conversely, the law typically does not recognize “petty slights,” annoying conduct, or certain isolated incidents as activities rising to the level of creating a hostile workplace. In determining whether an environment is legally hostile, courts often consider whether a reasonable person would find the behavior in question objectionable. Generally, a good question to ask yourself is, “Would a reasonable person listening to or watching the interactions in question find this behavior offensive?”
Sexual harassment is a leading cause of hostile work environments. Whether outwardly explicit or sexually suggestive in nature, these types of comments, “jokes,” or physical contact are impermissible, especially if the employee is under the impression that he or she must endure them in order to maintain his or her job. Additionally, improper treatment based on a person’s race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 and older), disability, or genetic information is a red flag meriting legal consultation.
The first step in dealing with a possible hostile work environment is often to address the problem with a manager, supervisor, or HR personnel. He or she should take the necessary steps to investigate the reported incident and ensure that the activity stops. If speaking up doesn’t work, you may want to file a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or a similar state agency.
An employment discrimination attorney can help you evaluate your situation and determine the proper steps to address it. If you believe you’re the victim of a hostile work environment, contact our employment attorneys in Cincinnati at Robert A. Klingler Co., L.P.A. and we will help you determine the right course of action and help rectify your problems through legal action if necessary.
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