Hostile work environment

What is a Hostile Work Environment?

Harassment has been defined as conduct in the workplace that rises to the level of creating a “hostile” environment. Another important aspect of this is that the conduct is based on the protected characteristic of the employer who is on the receiving end of the harassing behavior and who is, thus being subjected to the hostile environment. In other words, the hostile work environment must be motivated due to someone’s protected characteristic; the discriminatory conduct is premised on a protected characteristic It can be difficult, however, to understand what exactly hostile means in this context. When does harassing behavior rise to the level of creating a work environment that is hostile? We’ll go into more detail about what can constitute a hostile work environment here.

What is a Hostile Work Environment?

The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) makes discrimination based on, but not limited to, the following characteristics illegal:

  • Age
  • Color
  • Disability
  • Gender
  • National origin
  • Race 
  • Religion
  • Sexual Orientation

When an employer or employee harasses another employee due to a protected characteristic and the behavior creates a hostile work environment, it becomes actionable pursuant to the NJLAD. It should be noted, however, that what may be perceived as a hostile working environment will not be actionable pursuant to the NJLAD if it has not been created due to someone’s protected characteristic.

Furthermore, not all unpleasant workplace conduct is going to rise to the level of creating a hostile work environment. There is plenty of behavior that may be rude or past what is socially acceptable, but it does not necessarily mean that harassment in the workplace has occurred. There are also varying levels of sensitivity among different people that must be taken into consideration. If a court finds that a reasonable person would be offended by the conduct, then it may be considered harassment. This is called the “reasonable person standard” and, while difficult to specifically defined, it has a prominent role in harassment cases, nonetheless.

If you believe that you have been the victim of a hostile work environment, then it can be important to take steps to preserve any claim you may make in the future. Try to document all incidences of harassment, including noting the time, date, location, and nature of what happened. You should also note who was involved. Furthermore, you should report the incident by either speaking with management or a representative in the human resource department. Check your employee handbook to see if there is a specific procedure in place for reporting these kinds of incidents.

Those employees who have suffered from a hostile work environment can file suit against an employer if an employer fails to take any corrective action. Recoverable damages may include lost wages, loss of future income, and compensation for stress and trauma associated with having to work in a hostile environment.

Employment Law Attorneys

If you think you have been the victim of a hostile work environment, do not hesitate to reach out to the dedicated employment law attorneys at Castronovo & McKinney. Contact us today.