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California Employment Lawyers > Blog > Employment > What Is A Hostile Work Environment?

What Is A Hostile Work Environment?


When we talk about harassment in the work place or discrimination, we often think of acts that are directed towards you, the employee. Someone makes a rude comment to you that is sexually or racially charged, or someone uses a slur or insult that has to do with your disability.

But what if none of that happens? What if you, specifically, are never a target for any kind of discrimination, but there are a lot of “jokes,” insults, or crude remarks that are just used by your co-workers in general in the workplace. Have you been harassed?

Hostile Work Environment

In fact you have. It’s called a hospital workplace environment, and the law recognizes that an employee can sue if the employer knows of and allows a hostile work environment to continue.

Let’s look at a typical example. You, a woman, work in an office. In the workplace, employees—mostly male—routinely access and look up pornography on company computers. They often will show each other the videos, make crude comments about it, and put pressure on other employees to look at it. There are even some jokes that could be construed as being demeaning to women.

You, as a woman, are a bit uncomfortable with this, even though no other employees have directly harassed you. The workplace makes you feel demeaned and uncomfortable. It creates an environment that makes women like you feel threatened, insulted, or “less than” male employees.

It’s the Environment That Counts

Employers that allow comments, pictures, or activities to go on, which make any protected class feel this way, can be sued for a hostile workplace environment, even if you, as the employee, may have been treated just fine.

In our example above, you may have gotten promotions, the bosses may be very respectful to you, and you may feel treated as an equal by your supervisors. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that the environment where you work is hostile.

To sue for a hostile environment workplace, you certainly need to show more than a few isolated incidents. The law knows that employers can’t control every single comment that comes out of every single employee’s mouth.

What’s the Company Policy?

The law does require that an employer have an established workplace hostile environment policy, and that the employer take action when it becomes aware of something in the workplace that could be hostile. Policies should address what kind of language can be used, and how company technology can be used, in ways that do not allow for harassment or hostile environments.

There should be an established complaint system, where employees feel safe to report things anonymously if needed. All complaints should be addressed by management when brought to its attention.

Is your workplace hostile, insulting or harassing? We can help. Contact the San Jose employment law lawyers at the Costanzo Law Firm today for questions about whether you have been discriminated against in the workplace.

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