Harassment in the workplace is illegal and many laws and statutes have been implemented at both federal and state levels to protect workers against harassment. If you are forced to work in an environment that is charged or hostile, you may have legal recourse.
There are two basic types of workplace harassment prohibited by law. Quid Pro Quo Harassment is when employees are favored or punished based upon giving in to questionable demands by supervisors in a “this for that” manner.
Hostile Work Environment is where repetitive behaviors and commentary build up, making the workplace a difficult environment for productivity. If you dread going in to the office because you know you will be harassed, bullied, name-called, or intimidated, you may be working in a hostile work environment.
What constitutes a hostile work environment?
A work environment becomes hostile when the questionable conduct of supervisors and co-workers is unwelcome, repetitive and directed against a protected class of individuals. The behaviors could be coming from anyone in the workplace including co-workers, supervisors, managers, bosses, contractors, executives or even clients.
Examples of Unwanted Conduct
Many actions could constitute the unwanted conduct of a hostile work environment.
Sexual Discussions or Comments
Discussing explicit sexual activities in the workplace is uncomfortable at best and harassment at worst. Comments of an explicit sexual nature can make employees feel shocked, objectified or threatened and should not enter the workplace.
Jokes or stereotypes about a protected class of people are considered harassing and inappropriate in the workplace. Anything that categorically comments upon a certain race, sex, disability, religion or other protected class should be avoided.
Being touched unnecessarily by co-workers or managers is definitely grounds for a hostile work environment claim. Even seemingly benign touches like a hand on a shoulder or a pat on the back can be misconstrued and unwelcome. The very fact that it is unwelcome contact is what constitutes harassment.
Comments About Physical Attributes
In most workplaces, there is no call for commenting on a person’s appearance. There is a distinct difference between a kind compliment that someone looks nice or that you admire a blouse or other article of clothing versus a comment about a specific body part or other feature. Being subjected to unwanted attention about your body, or appearance, especially if it could be construed as remotely sexual, is illegal and could be grounds for harassment.
Displaying Suggestive or Insensitive Pictures
Most companies allow employees to decorate their workspace with personal items such as family photos, plants or artwork. However, if any displays in the workplace are sexually suggestive or insensitive, even if they are privately owned and not posted by the company, they could be a form of harassment. Politically-charged photos or signs and racially or religiously insensitive images could also be construed as harassment.
Use of Crude Language
Repetitive swearing, cursing, or other crude language is offensive to many people and could be considered part of a hostile work environment. Communication in the workplace should be productive and not insulting.
Use of Demeaning Language or Epithets
The workplace should be free of derogatory terminology about any protected class or group of people. Name calling based on stereotypes or other demeaning language is discriminatory and is basis for a harassment complaint.
Use of Indecent Gestures
Body language can convey as much or more than verbal language. Suggestive gestures like gyrations, or rude or crude hand or facial signals are all indecent and should not have a place in a professional environment. If coworkers or clients have made indecent gestures toward you, you may have a claim for a hostile work environment.
Sabotaging Your Work
Different from other types of conduct, this one is typically geared toward professional injury, not sexual or discriminatory behavior. If a co-worker is sabotaging someone else’s work, either in an effort to make themselves look good or make their co-worker get in trouble, that is harassment and definitely builds an atmosphere of hostility.
Hostile or Combative Physical Conduct
Physical fights or other combative actions are prohibited in most work environments. If anyone has physically assaulted you at work, you most definitely have a claim of a hostile work environment.
Can You Sue a Company for a Hostile Workplace Environment?
While all of these behaviors are uncomfortable and may be the source of stress, it is important to remember that two criteria must be met in order for conduct to meet the legal definition of a hostile work environment.
You only have a legal right to sue if:
- The conduct or behavior is pervasive and repetitive, meaning it happens frequently, either by the same person or by many co-workers.
- The conduct or behavior goes against any of the NJ protected classes for discrimination. These include age, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, pregnancy, genetic information, marital status or gender identity.
If you believe the conduct in your workplace meets both of these criteria, you may have a hostile workplace environment harassment claim. In order to pursue your lawsuit, you should contact the employment attorneys at Castronovo & McKinney to discuss your options.
Our team of law professionals offer a free initial consultation where we can help you determine if you do, in fact, have a case. Then we will work with you to gather all pertinent information and evidence to build your case and file all necessary complaints to put your motion in action.
We pride ourselves on our relationships with our clients, and make it a priority to help you understand each step of the legal process in your hostile work environment claim. Call us today to get started.