Things to Consider When Creating a Hostile Work Environment Policy
The first step in developing a hostile work environment policy is understanding what a hostile environment is. First and foremost it is not merely teasing someone, or offhanded comments, or even isolated incidents that don’t have an impact on an employee’s employment. Although there are many things that can cause someone to fear the idea of going to work because of an intimidating, offensive, or even an oppressive environment it is not that easy to make a successful EEOC claim of hostile environment.
There are protections afforded by Title VII of the Equal Employment Opportunity Law that allow an individual to claim harassment or discrimination. The protected classes are race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, and disability. Although there are other potential reasons someone would be allowed to claim harassment, these are the protected classes under the law.
Therefore, when developing your anti-harassment law policy it is wise to include your language on a hostile work environment policy. They both will work together to provide your organizations position on hopefully a “No Tolerance” stance on harassment or discrimination.
So as an example if a female was being harassed by another employee and management was failing to protect her or act upon the harassment and the victim eventually feared reporting to work this may be a good cause of action by the EEOC for hostile work environment. Using this same example but changing it a bit let’s say the harasser continues to ask the victim out on a date after the victim has made it clear she is not interested. Then the harasser begins to start rumors about the victim being a prostitute or something similar. As you can see it can get really messy and trying to sort out the facts can become difficult if management doesn’t take the appropriate action immediately long before it gets to this point.
As you can see from this above example sex is a protected class. You could change out the example of sex with age, religion, race, national origin, or disability. So using age as an example someone over forty is told by a fellow co worker that they are over the hill and are not able to keep up with the rest of the younger team. Every time the older employee shows up for work the team harasses them with derogatory comments about their age. Management overhears the comments but passes them off as just having a little fun. However, the victim ultimately becomes so intimidated that their performance begins to fall to a point they are terminated. I’m not sure why management is surprised when the EEOC files a claim against them for harassment, discrimination, and a hostile work environment.
Therefore, when you create your hostile work environment policy make it crystal clear you will not tolerate any type of harassment or discrimination. In addition, if anyone reports any form of harassment or discrimination your organization must respond immediately to the claim by conducting a workplace investigation. Take it seriously because if the victim continues their claim through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) your workplace investigation may become extremely important to your defense. Beyond your defense it is critical to not allow this type of behavior in any form. Everyone is hurt by it including productivity.
Thank you and May God bless you!
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