Hostile Work Environment

posted by George Barron  |  Nov 13, 2009 08:14 AM [EST]  |  applies to Pennsylvania

Hostile Work Environment

The term “hostile work environment” has a very specific meaning in court. “Hostile work environment” refers to a type of workplace discrimination that is forbidden by state and federal laws.

What makes a workplace hostile is words or actions based on race, color, religion, sex, age, national origin or disability. When those words and/or actions reach a point where the victim can no longer work effectively, or when the environment becomes intimidating or offensive, the harassment may be unlawful.

It does not matter if the harassment comes from a boss, a co-worker or even a non-employee. The victim may be anyone who is affected by the conduct – not just the intended object of the harassment.

While every hostile environment case is different, there are some patterns of conduct that are seen over and over again.  In a sexual harassment situation, the conduct may include:

  • Leering or staring in a suggestive manner;
  • Offensive remarks about appearance, clothing, body parts;
  • Touching that makes the victim uncomfortable, such as patting, pinching or brushing against another’s body;
  • Telling sexual jokes, hanging sexual posters, making sexual gestures, etc.;
  • Sexually suggestive letters, notes, emails, messages, or pictures.

In a non-sexual harassment situation, the conduct may include:

  • Use of racially derogatory words, phrases, jokes;
  • Use of gestures, pictures or drawings which would offend a particular racial or ethnic group;
  • Comments about someone’s skin color or other racial/ethnic characteristics;
  • Negative comments about an employee’s religious beliefs (or lack of religious beliefs);
  • Jokes or stereotypes about an employee’s ancestry;
  • Negative comments regarding an employee’s age;
  • Hurtful or intimidating references to a mental or physical disability.

Keep in mind that these laws do not require politeness and good taste. Teasing, offhand remarks and isolated incidents are usually not enough to support a hostile environment case.

If you feel that you are the victim of a hostile work environment, contact my office today.

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