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How the law defines a hostile work environment

| Jan 22, 2018 | Blog, Firm News |

Employees should feel safe in their workplace, but sometimes employers do not create a culture that breeds positive behavior. This can lead to a hostile work environment, which can caused by unchecked employees, untethered contractors or intimidating management.

You have the right to a safe and comfortable workplace, thanks to state and federal law. 

“Abusive content”

According to the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, an employer shall include prevention of “abusive content” as a component of the training and education. “Abusive content” means the conduct of an employee or employer, with malice, that a reasonable person would find hostile, offensive and unrelated to an employer’s legitimate business interests.

“Abusive content” may include any of the following:

  • Repeated infliction of verbal abuse, such as using derogatory remarks, insults and epithets
  • Verbal or physical contact that a reasonable person would consider threatening, intimidating or humiliating
  • Gratuitous sabotage or undermining of a person’s work performance

Hostile work environments are a form of harassment

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines unlawful harassment as when behavior becomes so severe or pervasive that it creates a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile or abusive.

Offensive conduct that could be considered hostile by the EOOC would include:

  • Offensive jokes, slurs, epithets or name calling
  • Physical assaults or threats
  • Intimidation
  • Ridicule or mockery
  • Insults or put-downs
  • Offensive objects or pictures
  • Interference with work performance

Petty slights, annoyances or isolated incidents typically do not rise to the level of illegality – unless the isolated incident was extremely serious.

The person causing a hostile work environment can be a supervisor in any department at any level, a co-worker, an agent of the employer or a non-employee. This means a contractor who works for your employer on a weekly basis can legally be considered to cause a hostile work environment, as could a company owner’s spouse or adult child who regularly visits the business.

Regardless of who is causing the hostility, you should not have to go to work every day in fear of harassment. If your rights are being violated in a hostile work environment, you can contact an employment law attorney who will work to defend your rights for a safe workplace.

Do not suffer in silence if you feel unsafe or uncomfortable at work every day – you don’t deserve to feel this way and the law is on your side.