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Hostile Work Environment

A hostile work environment is when employer or co-worker behaviors that create an unprofessionally negative working atmosphere, whether the workplace behaviors are direct or indirect, subtle or blatant. Any patternistic unprofessional behavior that detracts from the productivity or safety of employees in their workplace can legally classify it as a hostile work environment.

What Behaviors Are Considered Criteria For A Hostile Work Environment

How does one begin defining a hostile work environment? According to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (1964), employees should never experience discrimination due to favoritism, color, sex, religion, or nationality. These behaviors, as well as other personal violations, cross the line into the areas of harassment or abuse, otherwise known as a hostile work environment. The law prohibits behaviors that create a hostile work environment. Behaviors that constitute hostility in the workplace include if the employee has been discriminated against or harassed due to any of these:

  • Religion
  • Gender
  • Orientation
  • Nationality
  • Disability/Handicap
  • Being part of any legally protected status.

Once it becomes clear that the employee has been suffering in some way as a result to workplace abusive, the workplace environment is subject to legally being considered a “hostile work environment,”

Here are some of the ways that a hostile work environment affects an employee:

  • Lack of motivation
  • Decline in work performance
  • Decreased productivity or open
  • Lack of attention to details
  • Lowered self-confidence or self-esteem
  • Health problems, including physical, mental, and emotional

Have you ever experienced any of these while on the job? Abuse and harassment take its toll on the human body in so many ways. When in a hostile work environment, it is important that you understand that there are rights to protect you from continuing in this manner. Over the long term, the issues above (and much more that have not been previously mentioned), can render in a variety of lost opportunities for the employee.

For example, if the employee is working in a hostile work environment and begins noticing their productivity and output decrease, it can hamper that employee’s chances of gaining a promotion or receiving a raise, as there is less visibility on the employee’s production and growth. This hostile environment inhibits employee growth, as he or she cannot get ahead, but rather is burdened by this emotional weight.

Your colleagues and coworkers may also be considered victims of a hostile work environment. Even if the abuse is not directly aimed at them, they are witnesses to the harassment. If their performance or health begins to decline, then they too are affected. This is one of the ways you can corroborate your claims of a hostile work environment, is by gathering the accounts of your fellow employees.

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Your Rights in a Hostile Work Environment

As an employee who might be dealing with a hostile work environment, the first step you should take is in protecting yourself. Several laws in California have been put into place to ensure that this behavior does not prolong to the point where it is affecting not only ability to keep your job, but also your health, your finances, your overall sense of security.

When you walk into the office or begin your shift, it is reasonable to expect that you are working in an environment that is healthy and prioritizes your safety. Unfortunately, there are some instances where the workplace, office, or company may disregard that safety altogether. You may be placed under a supervisor or a manager who acts disrespectfully towards you. The manager may even cross the line to the area where you feel harassed or abused. Sometimes it may not even be a manager who participates in this behavior, but your very own colleagues.

Defining Harassment in the Workplace

Harassment is not always straightforward, as there are many different ways the behaviors can occur. As we had previously discussed, comments or remarks based on a legally protected status, gender, religions, race, and so forth are common identifiers. Let’s explore further on the individual types of cases.

Harassment can take place in forms such as:

  • Direct harassment from a colleague or supervisor
  • Behaviors from a colleague or supervisor that were harassing to the victim
  • Sexual harassment or sexual favoritism committed by a colleague or supervisor
  • Being a witness to harassment directed at other coworkers or colleagues

Remember that there are antidiscrimination laws in place to protect yourself in such scenarios as mentioned above. According to the California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing Housing Act:

“It is an unlawful employment practice, unless based upon a bona fide occupational qualification, or, except where based upon applicable security regulations established by the United States or the State of California:

(a) For an employer, because of the race, religious creed, color, national origin, ancestry, physical disability, mental disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, age, sexual orientation, or military and veteran status of any person, to refuse to hire or employ the person or to refuse to select the person for a training program leading to employment, or to bar or to discharge the person from employment or from a training program leading to employment, or to discriminate against the person in compensation or in terms, conditions, or privileges of employment.”

California Gov. Code, Title 2, Div. 3, Part 2.8, Ch. 6 §§ 12940 – 12953

When Is a Case Not Considered “Hostile Work Environment?”

If you were to claim that you were unhappy at work or that the workplace was mostly unpleasant, this might not hold enough weight for a legal case.It would not be enough to say that you were not given enough perks, that the amenities were insufficient, or that you did not get along with your coworker. A claim of a “hostile work environment” should include claims of harassment or abuse committed by someone at the company based on those factors noted above.

Unfortunately, many employees suffer on a day-to-day basis of feeling underappreciated for their work. They may feel as they are underpaid for the type of work they’re doing, undervalued, or not receiving the recognition they deserve. They may not always be granted their requests or be assigned a schedule that they are not completely happy with.

Even in a situation where the employee might have a coworker who gets their nerves, is rude or short, and mostly disagreeable would not necessarily mean that that employee is experiencing a hostile work environment. The legal claim must go beyond behaviors that are irritating or annoying to the employee. A hostile work environment often reaches to levels that are debilitating for the employee, to the point where they can no longer properly perform the functions of their duties.

When Does Harassment Become Illegal?

Employers have the duty of protecting employees from harassment or discrimination. Without doing so, California law states that employers can be considered legally at-fault for employees who lose their job or experience a decrease or loss in pay or wages because of workplace harassment. Furthermore, employers can also be held accountable for sexual harassment claims as well. Even more so, employers can even be held accountable if a supervisor was aware that there was harassment in the workplace taking place, but did nothing to mitigate the issue, prevent it from occurring, or stopping the harassment altogether.

Should I File a Hostile Work Environment Lawsuit?

Remember that you are not alone in this battle, even when you have exhausted all options. If you have tried confronting the harasser and they continue to behave this way towards you, speak with your human resources team regarding harassment and abusive practices in the workplace. In good faith, your employer should take every measure possible to protect you as an employee. With diligence, the employer should be monitoring the employee’s behavior, with explanations that their actions are inappropriate and cannot continue. Many times, that employee will discontinue the behavior after this.

However, in cases where your pleas to your employer falls on deaf ears, or worse, there is an outright denial of or refusal to take cautions or preventative action, it may be time to consider filing a lawsuit.

Here are the first steps to take:

  1. Talk with your employment lawyer about your case. Your lawyer can explain your rights in full detail and advise on how best to proceed.
  2. Your lawyer will file a charge with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, in order to gain the “right to sue” for a hostile work environment. Note that this step is required prior to filing the lawsuit.
  3. Your claims must include all of the legal requirements: that the behavior was created by your supervisor or a coworker and continued without any prevention or addressing the problem, the harassment was so severe that it prevented you from completing your job duties, or that discrimination was involved.

Do not try to secretly record your coworkers’ behavior, either by an audio recording or a video recording on your cell phone. According to Cal. Penal Code § 632, it is illegal for you to record someone without their permission or knowledge. Therefore, you would not be able to use this to support your case. Furthermore, it could land you in hot water, as it could potentially expose you to a civil case from the other party, and possibly even a criminal penalty. Do your best to speak with your employer beforehand to put a stop to the harassment.

Legally, an employer cannot retaliate against you for taking a stand to protect yourself or reporting inappropriate or harassment in the workplace. It is important to note, though, that if you did not approach the human resources team or manager, noting the harassing behavior, your lawsuit may not hold as much weight. This is because your employer did not have the chance to address the issue with that employee and correct it.

Is There a Time Limit to Filing a Hostile Work Environment Lawsuit?

Many legal cases have a deadline to move matters along, which is known as the “statute of limitations.” If you recall, the Department of Fair & Employment Housing reviews these cases before you can bring forth a lawsuit. You must submit your claim within one year of the harassment or discrimination at work. Following this, once you have been given the green light, and your attorney has received the “right to sue” letter, you must file your court case within one one year that the letter was issued.

As with any legal matter, it is important that you act quickly. Many facets of the case could require quick responses. You might also be dealing with several other aspects of the law, including federal laws, which may have different timelines involved.

How an Employment Lawyer Can Help You

When taking on legal cases, although it is not necessary to have a lawyer, it is highly encouraged that you do so. Even if you feel that your case is fairly straightforward, your lawyer has a keen understanding of the laws and can present your case in a convincing and confident manner.

Also, your lawyer can help you recover financially from working in a hostile work environment, especially if you have lost any current or future earnings from no longer being able to perform your job. Your employment lawyer is focused on finding the best possible way to maximize your financial well-being.

Financial recovery could include the following:

  • Compensation for salary lost due to job loss
  • Compensation for being paid unfairly or for lack of promotion
  • Compensation for retirement funds lost
  • Any costs associated with pain and suffering
  • Punishment against the employer, also known as punitive damages
  • Assistance with attorney fees
  • And much more

Although having a lawyer does not provide guarantees, they can avoid any mishaps along the way. Most importantly, your lawyer is your advocate and will speak for you on your behalf.

Get started on your legal claim today. Contact Eldessouky Law today for an appointment!

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