What You Need to Know about Hostile Work Environments

Everyone has a legal right to be free of harassment at work. Unfortunately, some workplaces are so hostile and oppressive that it becomes very difficult for someone to do their job. At that point, both state and federal law step in and allow a person who has suffered to file a charge of discrimination.

Most people are aware that sexual harassment is illegal, and that a workplace can become harassing even if a person is not offered a quid pro quo. But just when are workplaces hostile? And is only sexual harassment prohibited under the law? Below, our New Jersey workplace discrimination attorney provides the answers.

Types of Offensive Conduct

A workplace can become hostile when there is offensive conduct present. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the following are examples of offensive conduct:

  • Slurs
  • Epithets
  • Jokes
  • Put downs or ridicule
  • Mockery
  • Nicknames
  • Gestures
  • Touching
  • Imagery

It is important to realize that sex-based harassment does not need to be sexual or flirtatious in nature. In other words, sexist generalizations about men and women can be offensive, such as “All men are dumb” or “No woman is cut out for management,” even if no one is trying to get you to date them.

Offensive statements or conduct can come from anyone—coworkers, management, vendors, clients, or the public. Sexually harassment can also come from someone of the same sex.

Offensive or Pervasive Conduct

How much offensive conduct makes a workplace hostile? This is a difficult question, and the legal answer is, “It depends on the circumstances.” The key is what a reasonable person would find intolerable.

For example, one incidence of groping could make the workplace hostile even without any other accompanying offensive conduct. By contrast, simple teasing or an isolated off-color remark or slur is unlikely to satisfy the standard. A sliding scale is used in this analysis, and it is not always easy to identify when the conduct stops being innocent and become hostile.

It is important to also point out that welcome conduct is not harassment, so there is usually a question about whether the victim participated in teasing or flirtatious behavior. This might sound like “blaming the victim,” but the issue crops up in most sexual harassment cases.

Racially Hostile Work Environments

Harassment is much more than sexual harassment. Harassment can be based on any protected category, such as:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • Nationality
  • Age
  • Disability
  • Genetic information
  • Sexual orientation (state law)

Aside from sexual harassment, racial harassment is another common type of workplace discrimination which has no place in today’s working world. Some workers experience racial slurs and offensive images in the workplace, or they are physically intimidated based on their race. Like sexual harassment, racial harassment can come from anyone—a coworker, boss, or member of the public. A person can also be racially harassed by a person of the same race.

Do You Have a Hostile Work Environment in New Jersey? Ask Us Today

Contact Sattiraju & Tharney, LLP today to analyze whether you have a case for a hostile work environment. We have secured a $22.6 million hostile workplace verdict, which is the largest in New Jersey. Our consultations are always confidential, so there is no risk in meeting with us today.