These sorts of common issues can cause an employee to believe he or she is dealing with a hostile work environment. A national study conducted by Washington-based Workplace Bullying Institute said 53 million U.S. workers believe they have been subjected to a hostile work environment. Unfortunately, many unpleasant actions taken by employers are not recognized as meeting the legal requirement for hostile work environment.
Legal Requirement for Hostile Work Environment
In the eyes of the court, a hostile work environment must be caused by:
1. Discriminatory conduct with respect to compensation, terms, conditions or privileges of employment because of an employee’s age, disability, national origin, race, gender, or religion. Mere insults, indignities, or threats alone are insufficient to meet the legal requirement if they are not because of one of these protected classes.
2. The discriminatory conduct must not only be bothersome to the individual employee but also serve or pervasive enough to affect the employee’s work performance.
Handling a Hostile Work Environment Internally with Your Employer
If you believe you are being subjected to a hostile work environment, it is important to follow certain procedures.
First, you should check your employer’s handbook for their policy on discriminatory conduct. Some companies extend protection beyond the ones required by law, such as intimidation or bullying.
Second, you should check the handbook for its policy on reporting discriminatory conduct. It is important to follow their procedures required. Even if your company does not require you to report it to them, do so anyway. You might have a stronger case in the future if you followed your company’s anti-discrimination policy, even if the situation is not remedied. You will want to show you took reasonable steps likely to prevent and correct the conduct. A hostile workplace lawsuit will fail if the employer was unaware of the situation and lacked the ability to correct it.
Third, if an investigation process takes place, it is important to follow up with the personal that conducts it. Ask questions like: How long will it take to complete? When will I become aware of the results?
Finally, it is illegal for your employer to retaliate against you for reporting the hostile work environment. If you believe you have been retaliated against, you should report it. Read your company’s anti-retaliation policy and follow the appropriate steps.
It is important to understand what constitutes a real hostile work environment and the appropriate measures to take in handling one if one should ever arise. Of course, you can file a charge of discrimination based on a hostile, discriminatory workplace directly with the Colorado Civil Rights Division (“CCRD”) or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). Time limits for filing with these agencies apply so check the agency websites for requirements and procedures.
By: Nicole Savino,
University of Denver Sturm College of Law Summer Extern,
and Robert J. Truhlar, Esq.