You may have heard that if you’re the victim of a hostile work environment, you could be entitled to sue your employer for compensation or other forms of relief. But what exactly is a hostile work environment in legal terms?
Although Florida and Georgia both have employment laws to protect workers, these laws generally follow the standards set under federal law. So it makes sense to see how the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines a hostile work environment.
Your Legal Rights Apply Only When the Hostility is Based on Protected Factors
A boss who is in a perpetually bad mood might make your work environment feel hostile, but the hostility has to stem from certain causes in order to give you the legal right to seek relief. Federal and state laws prohibit employers from discriminating against workers on the basis of specific protected factors. A hostile work environment is a form of illegal discrimination known as harassment if the hostility is based on a worker’s:
- Sex/sexual preference/gender identity
- National origin
- Age (over 40)
- Genetic information
When your employer engages in or allows “unwelcome conduct” focused on one of those protected factors, then the employer might have created a hostile work environment from a legal standpoint. An experienced employment law attorney could review a situation to determine whether the harassment involved stems from one of the factors protected by law.
Types of Conduct That Can Create a Hostile Work Environment
Unwelcome offensive conduct constitutes a hostile work environment when it is so widespread or so extreme that it would cause a “reasonable person” to find the workplace conditions abusive, intimidating, or hostile. Types of conduct that could be considered sufficiently offensive include:
- Offensive jokes
- Name calling
- Physical threats or assaults
- Displaying offensive pictures or objects
- Interfering with work performance
The hostile environment can be created by something done by the victim’s boss, co-worker, or even a non-employee. If the employer knew about the hostile behavior but did not take adequate steps to stop it, they could be held liable. Plus, the person being harassed by the offensive conduct may not be the only victim. Anyone affected by the hostile work environment could be considered a victim.
Help From an Attorney Dedicated to Protecting Workers’ Rights
If you believe you have been harassed at work by offensive conduct that created a hostile work environment, talk to a knowledgeable employment attorney to learn more about how to protect your rights and your future opportunities. A hostile workplace is illegal. The dedicated legal team at The Leach Firm, P.A. could fight to get you the relief you deserve.