A hostile work environment occurs when someone’s behavior, actions, or communication make it impossible to effectively do your job. Threatening and intimidating behavior, harassment, and interference with an employee’s performance may be considered hostile conduct.

Not all offenses are actionable, and an employment law attorney can help you determine whether or not you have a claim. Since some companies can be quite large, you can bet they will have strong legal representation, and so should you.

What Are the Requirements for a Hostile Work Environment Legal Action?

Courts use several requirements in determining whether or not a working environment is hostile, including:

  • The actions or behavior discriminate against a Title VII protected classification, such as race, sex or gender, religion, disability, or age.
  • It is offensive, continual, and is not swiftly investigated and addressed by the company.
  • The acts were severe enough to interfere with the employee’s work, and/or it interferes with the employee’s career ladder progression.
  • The employer was aware of what was going on, yet did not take action to stop the behavior. In this case, the employer may be held liable.
  • The victim believed he or she had to tolerate the behavior to remain employed.

Can Strict Liability Apply to Hostile Work Environment Harassment?

Strict liability may apply in a hostile work environment case, if the perpetrator is high level, and abuses his power by behaving pervasively. Some courts may apply strict liability to the employer, while others may not. The premise being, the employer gave the abuser the power, therefore the employer is liable when that power is abused.

What is Sexual Harassment?

Legally, sexual harassment encompasses unwelcome sexual advances, sexual favor requests, and physical or verbal actions that are sexual in nature. These actions must be severe and frequent enough that they develop into a hostile work environment.

Sexual harassment falls into two categories:

  1. Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment: An employee’s job depends on whether he or she accepted or rejected sexual advances from a superior. An employee may still file a sexual harassment claim regardless of whether the sexual advance was accepted or denied.
  2. Hostile Work Environment: An individual makes sexual advances which creates a hostile working environment, and prevents the employee victim from performing his or her job.

What Is Indirect Harassment?

Indirect harassment can occur anytime another individual is privy to or harmed by the harassment of another person. If a person takes offense to any actions, communication, or behavior, a court may find that the environment is hostile.

Indirect sexual harassment could involve overhearing lewd conversation, seeing offensive images, or witnessing the harassment of a co-worker. Another indirect harassment scenario is if a third party should have received a promotion, but a coworker who submitted to a manager’s sexual advances received the promotion instead.

What About Company Harassment Policies?

Companies typically have strict nondiscrimination policies in place to protect itself and its employees. However, if a company is aware of a harassment scenario, and fails to end the harassment, a court may find the company liable. The company may also be found liable if any adverse action was taken against the complainant.

Proving company liability may be difficult if:

  • The victim of harassment failed to come forth or go through the proper channels of filing a complaint.
  • The company wasn’t made aware of the issue. 
  • The company took the complaint seriously, investigated the complaint promptly, and responded adequately.

Should I Contact a Hostile Work Environment Attorney for Harassment at Work?

No one should have to be subjected to a hostile work environment. If you were victimized at work, consult an employment law attorney immediately. An experienced attorney can help put your case together, and get the relief to which you are entitled.