Sexual Harassment & Hostile Work Environment
Sexual harassment and illegal hostile work environments should never be tolerated. They demean and offend all of us.
At our firm, we represent clients who have been sexually harassed at work, as well as those who have been subjected to an illegal hostile workplace.
What is Sexual Harassment at Work?
Sexual harassment may be thought of as unwelcome sexual advances, comments, remarks, requests for sexual favors, or similar actions made toward a worker. Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that is in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. A key differentiating aspect of sexual harassment is that the offending behavior is made primarily based upon the gender of the targeted victim.
Sexual harassment and illegal hostile work environments should never be tolerated. They demean and offend all of us. At our firm, we represent clients who have been sexually harassed at work, as well as those who have been subjected to an illegal hostile workplace.
What is a Hostile Environment?
A hostile work environment is a type of discrimination claim. People commonly misunderstand a “hostile work environment” to refer to any workplace that is hostile. That is not the case. Legally speaking, there is nothing unlawful about creating a work environment that is hostile unless the hostility is based on an employee’s protected characteristic, such as race, gender, etc.
In legal terms, a hostile work environment refers to discriminatory words or conduct in the workplace that causes intimidation, ridicule, and insult and that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment. “Discriminatory” means directed at the employee’s membership in a protected class.
Some examples include: co-workers making misogynistic comments around female employees on a regular basis and the company, despite knowing this occurs, not attempting to stop the behavior; a supervisor frequently mocking and ridiculing an employee’s religious beliefs; or an office where a gay or transgender employee is referred to in derogatory terminology based on his or her affect or appearance. If the hostility is because the employee had complained about discrimination in the past, this is also illegal because an employee is protected under the law from retaliation for complaining about unlawful discrimination.
My Boss is Too Demanding – Is This a Hostile Work Environment?
A hostile work environment does not mean – at least legally – a boss giving unrealistic performance expectations and yelling at an employee on a regular basis for not meeting them, when that conduct is not due to the employee’s protected status.
Legally speaking, your boss can be a jerk. She can demean workers in front of others. She can expect levels of work that are simply unreasonable. She just can’t treat workers differently who are in a protected class by virtue of their membership in such class.
If you believe that your employer has created or permitted a hostile work environment, you need to consider the reason for the hostility. In the event that the hostility stems from your race, gender, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, or another protected status, then you should consult with a lawyer.
My Boss is Constantly Checking Me Out – Is this Illegal?
Under the law, what is required is conduct that creates a hostile work environment, which can include sexual harassment.
If your boss is creepily “leering” at you in an unwelcome way, this may be sufficient conduct to create a hostile work environment. It’s important to understand that the “conduct” itself does not need to be explicit comments or physical groping.
In this case, the key question to consider is whether you are being treated differently because of your status in a protected class (if you are woman, then you are in a protected class).
Should I Quit My Job if I’m Being Harassed or Discriminated Against?
No. From a legal perspective, this is never a good strategy. Instead you should call us.
In most cases, if you quit you may be deemed to have given up many damage aspects of your potential claim against your employer. Of course, you need to consider your health and well-being, but as a legal matter, you will most likely not have a wrongful termination case if you quit since it would be you, and not your employer, who will have caused the termination. (There is also a possibility that what is called a “constructive termination” may have taken place if the hostile work environment completely prevents you from doing your work, but in most cases this will not be applicable and a worker should not simply quit his or her job).
What Should You Do if You Believe that You Are Being Sexually Harassed or Being Subjected to an Illegal Hostile Workplace?
First, you can contact our firm. Based upon our initial discussion, we may then be able to advise you on what actions you should consider in order to protect your job and your right to work in an environment free from illegal hostilities. We can also represent you – either in dealing with your employer to remedy the situation, or in litigation.
Second, take notes and preserve evidence. What days and times are the hostile or wrongful events taking place? What, exactly, happened? Were there any witnesses?
It’s important to promptly document all conduct as soon as possible, preferably soon after the wrongful conduct occurs.
Third, in most instances you should inform the company of the nature of the illegal or hostile conduct so that they will know about the situation and be given the opportunity to take corrective action. The sooner that such a complaint can be made, the better.
Certainly, in some situations such notification will not be appropriate or even possible – such as if there is no HR department, and if it is the owner who is the person engaging in the illegal conduct. Also, in rare situations, it may be that the conduct is not just a hostile workplace, but that an illegal and criminal sexual assault has occurred and police should be contacted.
Regardless of your situation, we can help you protect your rights.
We invite you to call us for a free consultation so that we can learn about your matter and so that we can explain your options and if we can help.