I’m in a Hostile Work Environment. What should I do?

March 5, 2019

Having to report to a hostile work environment on a daily basis can be an exhausting situation. Many employees, who are reliant on their jobs, feels helpless as they return to a hostile and stressful environment on a daily basis. Nonetheless, it is important for those employees to know that the law provides many protections for them. An employee’s best way to protect themselves form these situations is to be knowledgeable about these protections.

A common complaint from employees who are subjected to a hostile work environment is that, though they have informed a supervisor about the hostile work environment, their supervisor has done nothing to prevent it from continuing. If this is the situation in the workplace, an employee’s best recourse is to file an administrative charge against the employer through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC is an important tool for employees who are subjected to hostile work environments. Furthermore, an attorney who specializes in labor and employment law can be another important tool for employees.

What Constitutes a Hostile Work Environment?

In terms of the law, whether or not your work environment is hostile , is an objective standard. A hostile work environment exists when a reasonable person, in the employees position, would find the environment to be hostile.

A hostile work environment consist of more than sporadic and off-hand remarks that someone may find annoying. Instead, the actions or words that create a hostile work environment should be sufficiently severe and pervasive.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), “Harassment becomes unlawful where 1) enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or 2) the conduct is severe and pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive. “ (https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/harassment.cfm)

Accordingly, slight annoyances caused by a co-worker or supervisor are not considered illegal. Generally, harassment is present when it is repetitive and pervasive behavior that causes an employee to feel uncomfortable, intimidated or offended. This is a subjective standard. What causes one to feel uncomfortable or offended may not cause another to have those same feelings. If an employee feels that they are having to deal with offensive behavior in the workplace in order to keep their job then they may be a victim of harassment.

Notify Your Employer

When determining whether or not to file a hostile work environment suit, you should consider several factors. One factor you should consider is whether or not your employer was put on notice regarding the hostile work environment. In terms of the law, an employer who knew or should have known of a hostile work environment as the duty to protect the employee and take substantive action. On the other hand, if the employer was not notified, then they are unable to take any actions in resolving the issue. Accordingly, an employee who feel as though they are working in an hostile work environment should address the issue with a supervisor or human resources.

The employee should also seek to address the hostility with the person who is perpetuating the offensive behavior. This can be the most efficient way for the hostility to stop. On the other hand, if they refuse to stop and hostile actions continue, then the employee can document that they made an attempt to confront the offender.

Filing a timely charge with the EEOC

If the harassment continues, the employee should seek to file a claim with the EEOC. The EEOC is a U.S. Government agency that is responsible for making sure federal anti-discrimination and anti-harassment laws are being enforced..

The EEOC will begin an independent investigation once an employee files an administrative charge through their offices. It is important to note that the EEOC may contact your employer or co-workers. Further, EEOC officers may make site visits to the workplace and conduct witness interviews. If the EEOC determines that there is reasonable cause to believe that the employee is being subjected to harassment and/or discrimination in the workplace, they will provide the complainant with a Right to Sue notice. This will permit the employee to proceed to court with proper representation. An EEOC investigation is necessary step prior to filing any sort employment harassment or discrimination lawsuit, otherwise your case will be immediately thrown out.

Find Representation and File a Lawsuit

Once you have been given a Right to Sue Notice from the EEOC, you can proceed with filing a lawsuit in the proper jurisdiction. At this point, it is recommended that you find an attorney who is experienced with labor law to assist you.

If an employee feels that they are being forced to work in a hostile work environment then you should consult with an attorney who is experienced in labor law immediately. The laws governing harassment and discrimination are complex. There are strict regulations governing the process for filing a lawsuit. Furthermore, there are strict time restrictions, known as statute of limitations, as to when a lawsuit can be filed. The experienced attorneys at Shegerian Conniff are ready to hold your employer accountable, fight for your legal rights, and seek justice.  Click here to contact us today or call us at 310-322-7500 for a free consultation.