Is it Unlawful for My Employer to Create a Hostile Work Environment?
Americans spend the majority of their day at work, and expect to be treated fairly and with respect in the workplace. However, sometimes an employer or supervisor creates a hostile work environment, which can come in many different forms. You do not have to suffer through that kind of work situation. One of the most common questions that arise in these situations is, can I sue my employer for creating a hostile work environment? State and federal laws protect you from a hostile work environment that is motivated by unlawful discrimination or retaliation. The attorneys at Console Mattiacci Law have fought for the rights of many clients suffering from discrimination and harassment in the workplace.
What is a Hostile Work Environment?
An employer creates a hostile work environment when it subjects its employee to conduct that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the terms, conditions or privileges of the victim’s employment. A hostile work environment can be created because a supervisor is harassing employees as a result of an actual or perceived protected trait, such as their race, color, religion, sex, pregnancy, national origin, disability, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, or as a result of the employee engaging in protected activity (such as complaining of discrimination in the workplace).
In deciding whether an employer has created a hostile work environment for an employee, courts typically consider the “totality of the circumstances.” No one factor is required in order to find actionable harassment. It is a very fact-specific inquiry. Conduct that can lead to a hostile work environment includes, but is not limited to: discriminatory comments, name calling or jokes; false or unfounded performance criticism, whether formal or informal; micromanaging an employee’s work; ostracizing an employee from their team or leaving them out of meetings; treating the employee in a generally rude or demeaning manner; ignoring or disregarding the employee’s input; holding the employee to different or unrealistic standards; or treating other employees in a harassing or discriminatory manner, which the employee witnesses, even if the conduct is not necessarily directed at that particular employee.
Elements of a Hostile Work Environment
In order to establish a hostile work environment, an employee must be able to show the following:
- The employee is a member of a protected class
- The employee was subjected to unwelcome verbal or physical conduct
- The unwelcome conduct was due to the employee’s membership in a protected class
- The unwelcome conduct affected a term, condition or privilege of employment
Offensive conduct includes off-color jokes, slurs, epithets or name calling, physical assaults or threats, intimidation, ridicule, mockery or humiliation, offensive objects or pictures, and interference with work performance. There are many factors that determine whether an unlawful hostile work environment has been created, including the frequency and the severity of the conduct. However, even single, isolated incidents can be sufficiently severe to create an actionable hostile work environment. It is critical to have an experienced employment attorney review your case and advise you as to whether your situation rises to the level of a hostile work environment.
Compensation for a Hostile Work Environment
If an employee proves that a supervisor or employer created a hostile work environment, they are entitled to certain damages. Compensation for a hostile work environment can include, but is not limited to, compensation for emotional distress, grief, sleeplessness, anxiety, depression, and other forms of pain and suffering, as well as potential economic loss damages suffered as a result of the hostile work environment. In cases where there was particularly egregious conduct or behavior, the court may impose punitive damages. Punitive damages go above and beyond the typical damages and are meant to punish the employer for their actions in addition to serving as a deterrent to other employers. The victim is also entitled to reimbursement for their reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs involved in pursuing a hostile work environment claim against the employer.
Contact an Employment Attorney Today
If you feel like you are being subjected to a hostile work environment, you may have a claim against your employer for damages. The experienced employment attorneys at Console Mattiacci Law have experienced attorneys who are able to help employees battle against hostile work environments in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Massachusetts. Call us at 215-545-7676 or contact us today to schedule a free consultation of your case.