When unwanted or unwelcome verbal or physical conduct in sexual form, sexual advances, or requests for sexual favors occur in the workplace and the effect is the creation of an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment, a victim of this behavior has likely experienced workplace discrimination. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) protects employees from working in such an environment.
Unfortunately, a hostile work environment can happen to anyone, at any level of an organization. This occurs when a victim experiences unwelcome conduct from anyone with whom he or she interacts while on the job. The harasser does not have to be a supervisor, or even an employee of the company. The unwelcome conduct would result in a workplace atmosphere that is intimidating, offensive or hostile for the victim.
What is a Hostile Work Environment: Things to Consider
Federal and state law require that the alleged conduct is both unwelcomed and based on the victim’s protected status. In other words, the unwelcomed conduct must be based on the person’s race, color, religion, national origin, gender, age, or ethnic background. Specifically, the conduct must be (1) abusive to the victim (subjective) and (2) severe and persistent enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would find offensive or hostile (objective). In other words, the conduct must be found to be hostile subjectively and objectively.
Should a lawsuit of this nature go before a judge, the court will use several factors to decide whether or not the purported conduct is prohibited. These include:
● Whether the conduct was physically threatening and/or humiliating as opposed to a mere offensive utterance;
● The frequency and severity of the conduct;
● Whether the conduct unreasonably interfered with the victim’s work performance;
● The effect on the victim’s psychological well-being as a result of the environment; and
● Whether the alleged harasser had a higher position in the company than the victim.
Additional factors to consider include if others joined in on the harassment and whether the inappropriate conduct was directed at one individual or many.
Offensive workplace conduct that may escalate to a hostile work environment can vary. Some examples include: slurs, epithets or name-calling; inappropriate or offensive jokes; physical assaults or threats of assault; intimidation, such as ridicule or mockery, insults or put-downs; and offensive objects, pictures or images.
Reach Out to Levine & Blit, PLLC for Assistance
Establishing whether or not a hostile work environment exists can be complicated, as both subjective and objective proof is required. Likewise, victims may be hesitant to speak out for fear of retaliation (which is against the law). If you believe you have been the victim of a hostile work environment, contact the employment attorneys at Levine & Blit, PLLC today for a free no-obligation case evaluation. Call the New York City office at (212) 967-3000, to schedule your initial consultation.