Hostile and intimidating work environment

A hostile work environment is really just a specific form of harassment.

The EEOC defines harassment as:unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.

Both victims and witnesses are protected under the relevant laws.

The courts recognize that witnesses too might suffer consequences of workplace hostility, even though they were not the direct targets.

The harassing workplace bully might be an employee, such as a bad boss or coworker, or even a non-employee such as a client or independent contractor.

But the workplace bully is doesn’t matter as much in the legal sense, as does the fact that he or she is creating an intimidating, offensive, abusive or hostile work environment through discriminatory workplace harassment.

Understanding Hostile Work Environments Gathering Evidence Reporting to Administrative Agencies Suing for Harassment Community Q&A Harassment comes in many forms and involves more than touching or making “quid pro quo” offers where continued employment is offered in exchange for sexual favors.

Some conduct may be explicitly sexual or racially motivated while other conduct is not. Touch Unless workplace comments arise to the level of vulgar and humiliating verbal assaults, statements alone are generally not enough to transform an unpleasant work environment into a hostile one. This is particularly true where there is intimate, forcible touching. Payton approached Hostetler the next day, and in an attempt to keep Payton away from her face, Hostetler put her head between her knees. When Hostetler told Payton to take his hand off her, Payton just laughed and said he would undo it all the way.

It is these cases that pose the greatest challenge and these cases that push the limits of hostile work environment law. This is a logical result given that the "severe or pervasive" requirement was designed to "filter out complaints attacking the ordinary tribulations of the workplace, such as the sporadic use of abusive language, gender related jokes, and occasional teasing." Faragher v. Payton left the room only after another employee suddenly entered. Michelle Birchstein, an assembly line worker, began receiving unwanted sexual attention from a co-worker. The woman who struck Jones had previously hit other male employees in the groin.

However, the issue of harassment has become increasingly well known and by fiscal year 2003, 17.6% of the total discrimination charges filed with the EEOC were harassment claims. This makes harassment determinations difficult – not just for courts attempting to apply legal standards – but for human resource professionals and employment law specialists attempting to determine whether actionable harassment has occurred. In deciding how much is enough, courts generally consider "the totality of the circumstances," including: the frequency of the discriminatory conduct, the severity of the conduct, whether the conduct is physically threatening and whether the conduct unreasonably interferes with an employee’s work performance.

For harassment to be actionable under Title VII the offensive conduct must be sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment and create a hostile working environment. No one factor is required in order to find actionable harassment, and there is no precise formula to use when considering these factors.

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