black woman in hostile work environment

What Is a Hostile Work Environment?

Are you uncomfortable at work? Are coworkers making you uneasy? Is management putting you in awkward situations? You may be in a hostile work environment. A hostile work environment, however, means more than merely an unpleasant work environment. It is above and beyond a coworker who may be rude to you or being passed over for a promotion that you feel you are both qualified for and entitled to. While these are things that may work to create or contribute to a toxic or unpleasant work environment, it does not necessarily equate to a hostile work environment where you may seek legal remedies and redress under state or federal law.

What Is a Hostile Work Environment?

A hostile work environment claim is, at its essence, a workplace discrimination claim in the eyes of the law. To be successful in pursuing a hostile work environment claim, the employee must be able to prove that he or she was discriminated against based on a protected class, which includes race, gender, color, religion, sexual orientation, ancestry, national origin, pregnancy, age, or disability. Furthermore, the discriminatory actions must have risen to the level that they would be considered abusive. This means that the discriminatory actions must be both pervasive and severe.

In other words, a hostile work environment is created by management or coworkers acting in such a way that makes it impossible for a person to effectively do his or her job. Any expectations for a comfortable work environment is shattered due to the pervasively offensive discriminatory actions, including behaviors and communications. In rare instances, a single incident is enough to create a hostile work environment, but generally, the behavior must span a length of time that would merit it be deemed pervasive. This means that an off-color joke or a discriminatory statement will not necessarily be enough to suggest that a hostile work environment has been created. While such occurrences may be brought to the attention of Human Resources, they will usually not be considered to have created a hostile work environment. The behavior must occur repeatedly, a significant number of times, and over an extended period of time.

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), in accordance with the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), is tasked with monitoring discrimination in the workplace, such as hostile environment claims. Before bringing your grievances to the DFEH, you should first attempt to address the improper conduct with human resources or the proper authorities within your company. In some cases, this is not possible or proves to be unsuccessful in adequately addressing the situation. If this is the case, you should seek legal advice.

Employment Law Attorneys

If you find yourself in such an uncomfortable work environment such that you are unable to, or unable to effectively, do your job, then you may be a victim of a hostile work environment. You do not need to stand for this nor do you need to suffer alone in silence. The Rankin Law Firm is here for employees. We fight for employees to be afforded all of their rights under federal and state law. Contact us today.