When you start a job, you expect to work for fair compensation and have a respectful relationship with your supervisors and coworkers along the way. Unfortunately, some people in the workplace use their words and actions in a way that is discriminatory, bigoted, or otherwise inappropriate, creating a hostile work environment for others. Such a situation can affect employees’ performance as well as their overall well-being. Employees who are affected can sometimes feel powerless to speak up, but in fact, there are protections in place to help hold even management accountable in these situations.
At Harman Law, we believe that nobody should ever have to work in a hostile environment. That’s why our attorneys fight hard for employees like you throughout the Greater Charlotte and Lake Norman areas. Whether you have been subject to workplace discrimination or harassment, we can help you fight the person responsible for creating a hostile environment in your workplace and increase your chances of holding them or your employer financially accountable.
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What is a hostile work environment?
The term ‘hostile work environment’ is usually discussed regarding unlawful harassment, which the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines as “unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.” This conduct becomes harassment when it is inescapable for employees and bad enough to “create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.” Here are some examples of inappropriate conduct by an employer that might create a hostile workplace environment:
- Hurling racial epithets
- Asking a pregnant employee inappropriate, prying questions about the details of her pregnancy
- Denigrating or insulting an employee’s religious practices
- Sexually propositioning employees, asking about intimate details of their sex lives, or other forms of sexual harassment
- Making suggestive, insulting, or otherwise inappropriate comments about an employee’s appearance
- Making fun of an employee for their disability
- Making insulting jokes or rude comments about older employees’ physical and mental capabilities
While any of these actions is bad enough when done once, the behavior will have to be “severe and pervasive” to legally qualify as creating a hostile work environment. If your employer regularly engages in any of these or other inappropriate behaviors, an experienced attorney from Harman Law can help you determine whether you might have a case against them.
Reporting actions that create a hostile work environment
Working in a hostile work environment can be frustrating, emotionally draining, and even frightening. It can be challenging to know what to do when you are faced with workplace harassment. The most important thing you can do immediately after witnessing conduct that creates a hostile work environment is to report it to your employer’s human resources department or another supervisor. It is understandable to fear retaliation at first, but in fact, your employer cannot legally fire you for filing a complaint. Make sure to report exactly what happened, and how you feel that it created a hostile work environment. This step will be critical if you choose to take legal action against your employer later on.
Holding your employer liable for a hostile work environment
If your supervisor has created a hostile work environment, you can take legal action to hold your employer responsible for the harm it has caused you. You will first have to file a claim with the EEOC, after which you may be able to take your employer to court. According to the EEOC, there are two different defenses your employer can use to escape liability for a hostile work environment:
- Your employer “reasonably tried to prevent and promptly correct the harassing behavior”
- You “unreasonably failed to take advantage of any preventive or corrective opportunities provided by the employer”
Your employer will have to prove that both of these defenses are true to escape liability. This means that the task for you and your lawyer is first to prove that the conduct in question happened, and second to show that both of these defenses are false. The second point, taking advantage of preventive or corrective opportunities, is why it is so important that you report the conduct to your employer. If you go straight to court without bringing up the matter internally, your employer can escape liability by claiming that you did nothing to remedy the situation, therefore losing you the case.
Recovering damages in a claim against your employer
Hostile work environments and speaking out against them can come with costs, but there are legal remedies to help you recover financially. If you and your lawyer can successfully hold your employer liable for creating a hostile work environment, you could recover damages for a number of costs, including:
- Back pay, if you were fired or had to quit due to the hostile work environment
- Future lost wages if you cannot or should not return to your former job
- Medical costs, if the hostile work environment caused you physical or mental illness or injury
- Physical and emotional pain and suffering
- Attorney and court costs you incurred while fighting your claim
The damages you recover will depend on whether you lost or left your job, whether you can go back, what happened with your EEOC claim, and other factors. An experienced personal injury lawyer from Harman Law can help you determine what kind of compensation you can seek in your case.
Every employee deserves to work in an environment free from hostility, intimidation, discrimination, and abuse. If your employer has allowed your workplace to become hostile, Harman Law is here to help. We are dedicated to fighting for North Carolina workers. Our law professionals will work with you to build a case against your employer, make a claim with the EEOC, and increase your chances of recovering significant compensation for the harm you’ve been caused. For more information on how we can help and to set up a consultation, call us now!