How to Identify a Hostile Work Environment

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April 26, 2022

Some people claim they work in a hostile environment just because they do not like their boss or certain coworkers. However, did you know that the term “hostile work environment” has a specific definition under federal and California employment laws? Specifically, a hostile work environment is one in which an employee must endure harassing conduct based on protected factors that is pervasive or offensive enough to rise to unlawful harassment under the law. 

If you are wondering whether harassment has created a hostile work environment for you, please reach out to an experienced employment attorney for a case evaluation.

Basic Requirements for a Hostile Work Environment

The following are requirements for a hostile work environment in legal terms:

  • Harassment is happening against you based on a protected factor.
  • The conduct is either pervasive or offensive enough that a reasonable employee would find the environment to be abusive or hostile.
  • The employee knew about the harassing conduct and did not take sufficient steps to stop it.
  • The harassment impacts the employee’s ability to perform their job.

Protected Factors

Protected factors are those that an employer cannot use to make employment decisions or treat employees unfairly. In California, these factors include:

  • Disability, which might be mental and physical
  • Sex or gender, which includes pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, or related medical conditions
  • Gender identity or gender expression
  • Sexual orientation
  • Race or color
  • Ancestry or national origin
  • Religion or creed
  • Age (for employees 40 and over)
  • Marital status
  • Medical conditions
  • Genetic information
  • Military or veteran status

Workplace sexual harassment is the type that gets the most attention, but harassment based on other protected factors can also lead to a hostile work environment. 

Conduct that Might Create a Hostile Work Environment

Coworkers might be annoying and unprofessional if they tease you once in a while, but this does not necessarily mean you are in a hostile work environment. Instead, the conduct must be egregious enough or persistent, and such conduct can vary widely. Some examples of behaviors that might cause a hostile work environment include:

  • Unwanted sexual touching or assault
  • Telling repeated offensive jokes
  • Displaying pictures that are racist or otherwise offensive
  • Regularly discussing sexual encounters or inquiring about someone else’s sex life

If you believe that you are experiencing this level of harassment, follow your employer’s policies regarding reporting unlawful harassment. The law requires your employer to take action to stop the complained-of conduct, including terminating the harasser if needed. If your employer does not act sufficiently to stop the harassment, you should speak with an employment lawyer who handles hostile work environment cases. 

Consult with a San Francisco Employment Law Attorney Right Away

A hostile work environment can cause emotional distress, keep you from performing your job, or even cause you to leave your job, which is called constructive discharge. Before making any major decisions, discuss your experience with Olivier & Schreiber LLP. Contact us so we can evaluate your situation and begin protecting your rights to be free from workplace harassment




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