WHAT IS A HOSTILE ENVIRONMENT?
Hostile work environment is created where the prohibited conduct is so severe or pervasive that a reasonable person in employee’s circumstances would have considered the work environment to be hostile or abusive. The employee must not only show that he subjectively perceived his workplace environment as hostile, but also that a reasonable person would so perceive it (i.e. that it was objectively hostile).
The hostile work environment can manifest in several forms and types. See below for examples of hostile environments under different circumstances.
1. Sexual Favors (Sex Discrimination)
For instance, if favoritism based upon the granting of sexual favors is widespread in a workplace, both male and female colleagues who do not welcome this conduct can establish a hostile work environment in violation of California under FEHA and Federal under Title VII statutes. This type of sex discrimination can be established regardless of whether any objectionable conduct is directed at them, regardless of the victim’s sexual orientation, and regardless of whether those who were granted favorable treatment willingly bestowed the sexual favors. Thus, the conduct of a sexual nature that is so severe as to create a hostile work environment is actionable as sexual harassment because the victim did not receive favorable treatment and was actually discriminated against.
2. BASED ON YOUR AGE, DISABILITY, OR MEDICAL CONDITION
Age-based harassment refers to the creation of a hostile work environment by subjecting an age 40–or-over employee to age-based comments or conduct that have the effect of unreasonably interfering with his or her work performance. Moreover, a hostile work environment claim can be made on the ground of disability or medical condition as well. For example, an employer may discriminate against an employee based on a medical condition (e.g., AIDS), which may create a hostile work environment (leading to constructive discharge).
3. SEXUAL TOUCHING OR PHYSICAL CONDUCT (Sexual Harassment)
The premise of a sexual touching or physical conduct hostile work environment claim is that the conditions of the work environment have been made hostile “because of sex” and the environment is so severe that a reasonable person would agree to that extent. Also, the victim’s sexual orientation (e.g., homosexual) is irrelevant.
4. VERBAL ABUSE
Verbal abuse may create a hostile work environment even in the absence of physical touching. Title VII does not prohibit all verbal or physical harassment in the workplace. To be actionable, a sexually objectionable environment must be sufficiently extreme to amount to a change in the terms and conditions of employment.Similarly, to prevail on a hostile work environment claim under California’s FEHA, an employee must show harassing conduct was “severe enough or sufficiently pervasive to alter the conditions of employment and create a work environment that qualifies as hostile or abusive to employees because of their sex. The standard is “severe” or “pervasive,” not both.
WHAT CAN YOU GAIN FROM SPEAKING OUT AGAINST A HOSTILE ENVIRONMENT?
Employees, who are the victims of a hostile work environment, are protected by several state and federal statutes. If an employee can prevail on these statutes, he or she is entitled to recover reinstatement, lost wages, lost benefits, promotion, compensatory damages, emotional distress damages, attorney’s fees and even punitive damages.
WE CAN HELP
If you feel that you have been subjected to a hostile work environment by your employer, you should contact an employment attorney immediately to protect your legal rights under both State and Federal laws. The employment law matters are often complex and fact specific. At Mostafavi Law Group, APC, we treat your situation uniquely, and will tailor our representation to your situation and needs with commitment and zealous advocacy to maximize the recovery for you.