A hostile work environment can make life miserable, turning every day at work into a nightmare as you wonder what new abuses you will face and how long it will last. What’s worse, the mistreatment can hurt your career prospects and rob you of future opportunities.
The good news for those caught in this situation? The law offers hope. But many wonder when an uncomfortable work environment rises to the level of an unlawful and hostile environment. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, factors that can contribute to a hostile work environment include:
- Crude jokes and innuendos
- Unwanted touching
- Sexually explicit or suggestive images
- Obstruction of a person’s movements, such as impeding them from exiting their cubicle
- Inappropriate staring or leering
- Comments about a person’s physical appearance
Generally, isolated incidents do not rise to the level of a hostile work environment, nor do trivial grievances or mildly annoying behavior. To rise to the level of an unlawful and hostile work environment, the mistreatment must be what a reasonable person would consider “intimidating, hostile, or offensive.”
Who is at fault?
We often picture a harasser as someone in a superior position, and that is often the case, but anyone you work with can be guilty of harassment and contribute to a hostile work environment. This includes your direct supervisor, a supervisor in another department, a coworker or even a non-employee. Anyone affected by the harassment is a victim, not just the direct target. If you have suffered in a hostile work environment due to harassment against you or anyone else, you have rights.
Your employer has obligations
Employers are legally obligated to create an environment free from harassment and other workplace misconduct. If you have been subjected to a hostile work environment and your employer has not protected you, it may be time to explore your legal options. An experienced employment law attorney can provide you with the advocacy and guidance you need to overcome this difficult situation.