cartoon of stressed woman in hostile work environment

What Is a Hostile Work Environment?

By Tom McKinney
NJ Employment Attorney

Personality conflicts in the workplace can, unfortunately, be a common occurrence. You can’t always choose who will be assigned to your team, and part of thriving in the workforce is learning how to get along with people you might not otherwise interact with. 

However, not getting along with a coworker is different from being harassed or working with someone who actively creates a hostile work environment, with comments about your appearance or making sexual remarks or advances.

If you are being harassed at work and your employer isn’t stopping it, you may need to take legal action. Victims of workplace harassment may have a few options for reporting the harassing employee and the employer permitting them to be mistreated at work. 

An experienced New Jersey employment lawyer can help you understand the legal process of filing a hostile work environment claim. For any member of the workforce, it is essential to learn how to recognize workplace harassment and what constitutes a hostile work environment. 

What is workplace harassment?

Many people understand overt harassment, such as derogatory comments about a person’s sex, race, or ethnicity, or making sexually-based comments about another worker. 

However, workplace harassment and creating a hostile work environment go beyond the overt. For example, if a group of coworkers is telling explicit dirty jokes in the shared employee breakroom, they may create a toxic or hostile work environment.

Or perhaps a coworker comments about your weight or how you’re dressed, even if you’re compliant with your company’s dress code. You may have asked them to stop but gotten nowhere. These comments should not be permitted in the workplace.

Sexual harassment is another way that a hostile work environment is created. It doesn’t have to be explicit, such as a supervisor insisting on sexual favors in exchange for a promotion. Though this open harassment is, of course, illegal.

Harassment can also include a coworker asking you on a date after you’ve turned them down or asking you invasive questions about your personal and romantic life.

Is the harassment you’re experiencing actionable?

Harassment that reaches the threshold of creating a hostile work environment can be legally actionable. You may be able to report the employer or hire a New Jersey employment lawyer to file a lawsuit for damages.

A hostile work environment occurs when offensive behavior in the workplace is so severe or pervasive that it changes the conditions of the victim’s employment. Similarly, if another member of the victim’s protected class also feels the workplace conditions are hostile, intimidating, or abusive, then the conditions would be considered hostile.  

If you cannot complete your job duties because of the harassment, or if you feel too uncomfortable to work with others in your department or on your team because of the way that you have been treated, then you may have legal recourse. 

A hostile work environment could impact your job performance, hampering your chances of earning a promotion or doing the best work you’re capable of. If you can’t concentrate at work, or if the harassment keeps you from doing your job, you may receive negative performance reviews because of your poor performance.

You have the right to work free of harassment in conditions that are free from bullying.

Legal Recourse for Victims of a Hostile Work Environment

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) of 1967 all prevent members of several demographic classes (such as racial, gender, disability, and age) from discrimination and harassment in the workplace. 

If you are being harassed because of your membership in one of these protected classes, then you may be protected by both federal and state laws.

On the other hand, perhaps the harassment isn’t necessarily based on being a member of a protected class. In that case, you may still be able to report your employer to the EEOC or file a lawsuit.

To learn more about your legal options for addressing a hostile workplace environment, schedule a consultation with an experienced New Jersey employment attorney at NJ Employment Lawyers today. 

About the Author
Tom McKinney is a skilled employment law attorney with New Jersey Employment Lawyers LLC. He has a track record of success in all areas of employment law, including sexual harassment, discrimination, harassment, wrongful discharge, whistleblower claims and hostile work environment claims. Besides litigation, Tom handles severance agreements and severance package reviews/negotiations for over 100 people each year. If you have any questions regarding this blog, contact Tom here.