Hostile Work Environment Attorneys in NYC
Have You Been Subjected to a Hostile Work Environment?
Recently, the rise in complaints about sexual harassment has shed light on the way that power imbalances in the workplace can result in harmful behavior that has long-lasting effects on victims. At Levine & Blit, PLLC, our job is to help protect employees who have been subjected to harassment and hostile workplace environments.
If you have experienced workplace misconduct, whether related to your gender or another protected category, our team is here to help you seek justice. Call our NYC hostile work environment lawyers at Levine & Blit: (646) 461-6838.
Hostility Toward Protected Classes
If your boss frequently yells at your team, does that constitute hostility? What if one of your coworkers refuses to listen to you because of your age? Do you have any recourse for repeated use of slurs and demeaning jokes made by clients in your presence? We understand that a “hostile work environment” can be difficult to pin down.
Even though dealing with rude or temperamental coworkers can have a negative impact on one’s health and mental state, there are no legal protections against general negativity in the workplace. In order to meet the legal definition of a hostile work environment, the action or conduct must be based on a protected category.
According to state and federal law, protected classes include:
- Gender identity
- Sexual orientation
- Race, ethnicity, or national origin
- Disability status
Some states, including New York, extend these protections to other groups, including immigrants and pregnant women. This behavior does not have to come from a coworker or supervisor to be considered illegal. Anyone on the premises, including freelancers or even customers, can behave in ways that constitute harassment.
Sexual harassment tends to receive the most attention, since it is currently the most prevalent type of workplace misconduct, but employees can face discrimination for many other reasons as well. According to a survey conducted by the CDC in 2010, nearly 8% of American workers reported hostile work environments.
What Constitutes Hostile Behavior in the Workplace?
Another important thing to know about workplace harassment is that the misconduct must be severe and repeated. If one of your coworkers makes an off-color joke, is promptly reprimanded, and never does so again, your employer has properly dealt with the issue—and you would have no cause to complain about them.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces the laws regarding hostility in the workplace and uses the “reasonable person” standard to decide where annoyances cross the line into harassment.
Behaviors that may meet this standard include:
- Offensive jokes
- Use of slurs or epithets
- Intimidation or threats
- Physical assault
- Insults or ridicule
- Actions that hinder your ability to complete your job
- Display of offensive or inappropriate materials
Examples of a Hostile Work Environment
Consider the following scenarios:
Scenario #1 - Ana, a 17-year-old stock handler in a majority male workplace, asks her boss for a small raise after working for the organization for 8 months. Ever since her request, her boss has been acting differently, including blocking her way when she tries to pass and getting close to her as well as rubbing her back and shoulders while saying she is a “good worker”. One day he pulls her aside and says that even though she is not due for a promotion yet, he will pull some strings and get her a raise anyway if she goes out with him.
Scenario #2 - Bianca works part-time as an office assistant, taking over for Maria the full-time office assistant after she leaves. Bianca and Maria share the same workspace and computer. Lately Maria has been staying in the office after her shift is over and asking Bianca questions about her personal life, specifically if she has a boyfriend and whether she’s ever thought about dating women. Maria tried to give Bianca a back massage and put semi-nude pictures of women as the computer’s wallpaper, telling Bianca not to change it because she is the full-time employee.
Scenario #3 - Richard is 17 years old and works in a retail cellphone store after school with his supervisor, Carly and another female coworker. One day Carly asked Richard to lift her up by her waist so she could reach a product up on a high shelf. Richard politely declined because there was a step-stool nearby and he felt very uncomfortable with the request. Carly told him he shouldn’t disobey a manager and called him a wimp. Richard’s co-worker overheard and laughed it off.
Out of These Examples, Which is a Hostile Work Environment?
All of these scenarios represent a hostile work environment. A hostile work environment is a type of harassment that is prohibited under federal law, specifically Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1974. Generally, a work environment is hostile when a worker fears going to his or her place of employment. Federal law, specifically, describes this environment as “offensive, intimidating, or oppressive”.
The legal requirements needed to meet the definition of a hostile work environment include:
- The actions, communications or behavior must discriminate against a protected class of persons
- The actions, communications, or behavior must occur over time, be pervasive, and not be limited to an off-the-cuff remark or two
- The actions, communications, or behavior must be severe so as to seriously disrupt the victim’s work or career progress
It is reasonable to assume the employer knew, or should have known, about the actions, communications or behavior and did not sufficiently intervene
We Can Help You Speak Up About Unlawful Harassment
Many employees choose to ignore harassment because they are scared their employer will dock their pay, transfer them to less desirable duties, or fire them. It is illegal for companies to retaliate in any way due to a complaint about sexual harassment, discrimination, or other reports detailing infringement on worker rights.
At Levine & Blit, PLLC, our attorneys fight hard to protect workers' rights and hold employers accountable. To learn more about your rights as an employee, contact our firm today at (646) 461-6838 to schedule a phone evaluation.