What Makes a Hostile Work Environment?

Sexual harassment can be based on a hostile work environment, but what makes the work environment hostile?

Hostile and Abusive Conduct in Work Environment

Harassing behavior includes physical and visual conduct. It can also be verbal conduct, such as epithets, slurs, or derogatory comments. The conduct is harassing if it communicates an offensive or abusive message to the harassed employee because of sex or gender. The harassing conduct must also be severe or pervasive such that it creates an intolerable work environment for the harassed employee.

Conduct Directed at Others Can Create a Toxic Environment

Hostile Work Environment Lawyers in San Francisco and Oakland

Hostile or abusive conduct towards other employees can create a hostile work environment for you. A harasser may treat all members of a protected group (e.g. women) negatively.

The harasser’s behavior towards other women may contribute to one woman’s feeling that the work environment is hostile or abusive. That is because people are affected by what happens around them.

In the case of Weeks v. Baker & McKenzie (1998) 63 Cal.App.4th 1128; 74 Cal.Rptr.2d 510 (of which Founding Attorney Larry Organ was counsel of record), the court decided that sexual harassment toward other employees can demonstrate a hostile work environment.

Employers Must End Harassing Conduct They Know About

As soon as an employer become aware of harassment, they must take action immediately to put an end to the conduct. Employers are also required to take corrective action in order to prevent future harassment from occurring. This is because prompt employer intervention not only minimizes injury to the victim, but it also sends a clear message throughout the workplace that harassing conduct is not tolerated.

If My Boss Is Rude to Me, Does that Mean I Have a  Claim?

No one should have to suffer harassment in their workplace, but if a colleague or supervisor yells at or is generally rude to you, this does not automatically create a situation that legally qualifies as a hostile work environment, even if the conduct is unwarranted and hostile in a lay sense. However, if the content of their comments is based on your membership in a protected class, this might give strength to a hostile work environment claim.

In either case, you should report the harassment to your employer, but if the comments are based on your membership in a protected class—and the situation is not quickly dealt with by your employer—you might want to seek legal counsel.

Why Should You Report a Hostile Work Environment?

If you or your colleagues are being subjected to sex/gender, religious, national origin, age, mental/physical disability, or race-based harassment and suspect you might be experiencing a hostile work environment, report it—preferably in written form.

When you put your employer on notice, whether that’s your supervisor or a Human Resources representative, they are obligated to try and remedy the situation. If you don’t document your complaint, however, your employer might later try to claim that you never filed a complaint, in an attempt to undermine your credibility.

It is important to remember that when you report a hostile work environment, you might not be seeking relief for just yourself. Often, harassers target more than one person, so you are most likely helping others in addition. Furthermore, if the harassment goes unreported, it is possible that the harassment might escalate. Neither you nor your colleagues deserve to have to fear going to work and enduring a hostile work environment.

If the situation is effectively remedied, it will undoubtedly create a safer and more productive workspace, which should be an adequate incentive for employers to fix the problem. Unfortunately, this is often not the case. If this isn’t the case, and your employer does not remedy the situation quickly or effectively, legal action is one possible avenue to make sure employers are accountable for their negligence and inaction.

Many people are understandably hesitant about reporting misconduct, as they fear they might be retaliated against in the form of a change in employment status or benefits (i.e. a demotion, termination, or failure to promote). However, retaliation for reporting harassment by a colleague or supervisor is illegal. Don’t let bullying force you into silence or prevent you from seeking justice.

Hostile Work Environment Attorneys

If you are not sure whether you need a sexual harassment lawyer, let us help you decide. Call our law firm at one of our offices in the San Francisco Bay Area at (415) 453-4740 or (510) 978-4880, or contact us for a free consultation. With offices in Oakland, San Francisco, and San Anselmo, we are conveniently located for employees living in the San Francisco Bay Area, including Alameda and San Francisco Counties.