Hostile Work Environment

Depending on your job or workplace, your definition of a hostile work environment may be completely different from someone else’s. For example, inside jokes or offhand comments made between long-time co-workers may seem harmless to some, but they could be viewed as derogatory and harmful by other employees. At Higgins Law Firm, PLLC, we can help you understand the difference between office banter and a hostile workplace.

No One Should Be Made to Feel Intimidated at Work

Just as employees have responsibilities as part of their jobs, employers also have numerous obligations to their workers that must be upheld. When a supervisor or employer fails to meet these requirements, it’s important to contact a lawyer to take action and see that the legal requirements and obligations are met.

The circumstances of any employment law case can vary greatly, but a few common factors that contribute to a hostile work environment include:

  • Intimidation
  • Unlawful expectations
  • Singling out employees for ridicule based on race, gender or disability
  • Unlawful denial of advancement, pay, benefits or leave
  • Verbal abuse and discrimination
  • Ridicule and insults
  • Physical confrontation
  • Sexual harassment
  • Written harassment via email or other social media
  • Office or workplace bullying
  • Holding Those in Charge Accountable

What Are the Legal Requirements for a Hostile Work Environment?

Specific legal criteria must be met for a workplace to be considered hostile. A hostile work environment is created when the actions and behavior of your boss or a co-worker make doing your job impossible. Their behavior has to change the terms and reasonable expectations of a comfortable work environment for the workers.

Also, actions and behavior must be discriminatory in nature. Discrimination is defined as adverse treatment of an employee in the workplace that is based on a class or category (i.e., race, age, religion, sex, sexual orientation, disability, national origin) of which the worker is a member. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a federal agency created by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Iowa Civil Rights Commission (ICRC) administer and enforce laws against workplace discrimination.

According to ICRC, you may have a claim for a hostile work environment if you have been subject to severe or pervasive harassment because of your:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Race
  • Disability
  • Religion
  • National Origin
  • Color
  • Pregnancy
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Gender Identity

It’s critical to distinguish rude, obnoxious, and inappropriate behavior from behavior that legally creates a hostile work environment. For example, a co-worker who talks loudly and taps their fingers on your desk when they speak to you is exhibiting a rude behavior but not actually creating a hostile work environment. On the contrary, a co-worker who makes sexually explicit comments, for example, and passes nude photos around the office is committing sexual harassment and therefore creating a hostile work environment.

The legal requirements for a hostile work environment include:

  • The actions and behavior have to discriminate against a protected class of citizen, such as race, religion, age, or disability.
  • The behavior needs to last over an extended period of time, not just a single inappropriate comment that a co-worker found annoying or the offender’s behavior needs to be severe enough to where it disrupts the employee’s work or impedes the employee’s career progress.
  • The issue is not investigated enough by the employer to where it makes the bad behavior stop.

What to Do If Your Workplace is Hostile

If you are on the receiving end of harassment, intimidation, discrimination, or another form of inappropriate and harmful behavior at work, you should first ask the offender to stop. If that does not help the situation, speak to your supervisor about the issue. Make sure you know what your employer’s policies are on harassment. It’s also important to keep a record of the hostile events at work and your response to them.

Claims of a hostile work environment are more likely to be successful when they show a pattern of harassment. If your supervisor does not address the issue after you bring it to their attention, speak with an employment attorney as soon as possible. A skilled and experienced hostile workplace attorney can guide you in taking legal action.

When the Supervisor Is Creating A Hostile Work Environment

It’s expected that supervisors protect the interests of all their employees and uphold the policies of the company. However, in some instances, a supervisor may be the cause of discrimination or other behaviors that create an unsafe workplace. Those victimized by a negligent or abusive boss can feel trapped with nowhere to turn. That is why we encourage employees to consult our attorney so we can take legal action on your behalf.

Hiring an Experienced Iowa Hostile Workplace Attorney

If you can’t get relief after bringing the problem to your employer’s attention or the EEOC / ICRC, a hostile work environment lawsuit may be the right step for you. Filing a hostile work environment lawsuit will require you to present your case in court. This could result in you receiving compensation should the judge or jury rule in your favor.

Rather than filing a lawsuit on your own, hiring an employment attorney to help you will put you in a better position to win your hostile work environment case. An employment attorney can help you:

  • Review your evidence and determine if it’s strong enough to win a court case
  • Present your case to a judge or jury in court
  • Negotiate a settlement
  • Hire investigators or other experts to assist in gathering evidence
  • Prepare testimony

Employers have a defense to a hostile work environment claim when they can show (1) reasonable care was exercised to prevent and correct the discriminatory, harassing behavior and (2) the employee failed to utilize the employer’s corrective and preventive resources provided to avoid harm. Employers are not able to assert this defense, however, if the harassment is perpetrated by a supervisor and the employee has been subjected to an adverse employment action (i.e. termination, demotion).

Contact Us

At Higgins Law Firm, PLLC, we carefully investigate incidents of harassment and discrimination, gather testimony and build strong cases that force employers to comply with the law. Take the first step and contact our West Des Moines, Iowa, law office by dialing (515) 619-9148 or complete our online contact form for a prompt response.