How Do You Define Hostile Work Environment

To define hostile work environment we must understand what the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Law defines as a protected class, i.e., race, color, national origin, age, religion, sex, and disability. Now simply someone making an offhanded comment is not enough to generate a claim. As an example one remote comment about someone’s age such as, “I’ll bet it’s hard to do the things you used to be able to do when you were younger.”

On the other hand repeated age based harassment that begins to intimidate someone can fall into the category of hostile. Also remember that anyone over the age of forty (40) is considered protected by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Law. It may be hard for someone to understand but as a person begins to be harassed their performance may start to fall short of what is expected. Their attendance drops and they receive negative attention from their supervisor. Eventually if the harassment doesn’t stop they are either terminated or receive a negative employment action.

In an effort to define hostile work environment let’s take a look at another example tied to racial harassment. It may start out as simple little comments like “Your People!” But then the comments begin to progress to even more offensive comments like “Go back to where you came from” or “You people are all alike!” The person reports the racial harassment to their supervisor but the supervisor does nothing. Eventually the victim is too frightened to even come to work in fear that someone will do something to them. This is a perfect EEOC hostile work environment claim.

In a final effort to define hostile work environment let’s look at one more example involving sexual harassment. Of course sexual harassment involves any unwelcomed sexual behavior which could be verbal or physical. Perhaps a male coworker continues to put his arm around a female counterpart every time they are together even after the female has told them clearly to stop. Perhaps this is taking place at employee meetings in front of management and management does nothing. Eventually, the male coworker follows the arm around the female’s shoulder to an attempted kiss on the cheek. The female employee reports this to their supervisor and the supervisor tells her to lighten up a bit, their coworker is just being friendly.

Anytime a management official knows or should have known that an employee is being harassed whether sexual harassment, age based harassment, racial harassment, or any other form of harassment and does nothing the company is immediately at risk. Never forget that management has a responsibility to protect their staff. Simply stating that they didn’t know will not excuse the offense. Doing so could cost you a ton of money and the respect of your staff.

Thank you and May God bless you!

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