When people hear “hostile work environment,” they may legitimately or jokingly refer to their own, unpleasant work environment and say they may have a claim! A hostile work environment, however, is much more than having a work environment that makes you unhappy. When a person suffers harassment in the workplace that is consistent and unwanted, as well as objectively offensive, and such harassment is targeted at them because they are a member of a protected class, they may want to bring a hostile work environment claim. A hostile work environment claim, thus, requires that very specific elements be met in order to be successful. We’ll walk through those elements in more detail here.
The Elements of a Hostile Work Environment Claim
A hostile work environment claim will require five essential elements to be proven in order to be successful in federal court. First, the claimant will need to prove that they are a member of a statutorily protected class. Protected classes include those based on things such as gender, religion, national origin, race, and more.
The second element in a hostile work environment case will require the claimant to prove that they were subjected to harassment. Harassment can come in the form of either unwelcome verbal conduct or physical conduct targeted at them due to their membership in a protected class. In fact, the third element of a hostile work environment claim involves requiring the claimant to prove that the complaint or harassment was based on their statutorily protected class.
The fourth element requires the claimant to show that the harassment impacted either a term or condition of employment, had the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with the work environment, or created an offensive work environment. The last element requires an assertion and supporting proof that there is a basis for imputing liability to the employer. In other words, there is a reason it would be fair to hold the employer liable for the hostile work environment the claimant suffered. For instance, if the employer knew about the harassing conduct and did nothing to remedy the situation, this could be a fair basis for imputing liability.
Should all elements be met in a hostile work environment claim, the employer still has the opportunity to defend themselves. In order to do so, the employer must be able to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that reasonable care to prevent such harassing behavior, as well as promptly correct such harassing behavior, was taken. Furthermore, the employer must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the claimant failed to utilize the harassment complaint reporting procedure established by the employer’s harassment policy. If the claimant did follow the proper avenues for reporting such conduct, employers are still responsible for taking prompt preventative as well as protective measures in order to properly address the situation.
When notified of harassing behavior in the workplace, employers are required to take the reasonably necessary steps to remedy the situation and prevent its further occurrence. Failure to do so exposes them to legal liability. Reasonable measures to remedy the situation may include things like promptly investigating the situation as well as having an anti-harassment policy in place as well as an effective way for employees to report harassing behavior.
Employment Law Attorneys
If you have suffered from a hostile work environment, the trusted employment law team at Castronovo & McKinney are here to help you enforce your legal rights. Contact us today.