One of the main complaints about a hostile work environment is that, though a supervisor is informed about the harassment and hostility in a particular work situation, nothing has been done to stop it. When this is in fact the case, workers must know they have a right to file a charge against the employer for workplace harassment based on a hostile work environment. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) handles such charges and houses a wealth of information about employee rights and employment discrimination.
Beyond the EEOC, a competent lawyer can handle a hostile work environment case ensuring that an employee receives fair and just treatment according to the law. Choosing an employment law attorney is a crucial step in taking action to remedy a hostile work environment, but what can you do initially when you find yourself working in a hostile work environment? Below are a few first steps that can get you one step closer to the justice you deserve.
1. Keep a detailed record of harassing incidents.
Keeping a detailed record of each harassing incident you experience at work is a good idea. Start documenting any workplace abuse, bullying, offensive remarks and comments as well as notable incidents of behavior you think constitutes harassment.
Keep in mind that courts have specific criteria for judging whether a hostile work environment actually exists. Courts have ruled that offhand remarks and occasional incidents of harassment are not sufficient. Instead, the harassment must be so severe and pervasive that it interferes with an employee’s ability to perform job duties. The main purpose for such criteria is to prevent the law from being used to settle petty disputes and disagreements in the workplace.
2. Notify both the offensive worker or workers as well as a supervisor or manager.
Taking steps to notify both the offensive worker or workers as well as a supervisor or manager is critical. First, it’s important to let the offending party know that their behavior is not acceptable and that you would like it to stop immediately. This places the responsibility on the worker to either respect your boundaries or risk being reported to the appropriate authorities within the workplace.
Also essential is the act of notifying a supervisor or manager about the hostility and abuse you are experiencing or have experienced. This step is crucial because, without prior notification the supervisor or manager is not obligated to take steps necessary to prevent or improve the situation. However, once the supervisor is aware of the problem, if he or she fails to take reasonable steps to change the situation, your employer could be liable for allowing a hostile work environment to persist.
3. File a timely charge with the EEOC.
Filing a timely charge with the EEOC is one of the most well-known ways to remedy a hostile work environment situation. The EEOC is a government agency with the authority to handle formal complaints filed under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Title VII contains legal protection for workers who experience discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, disability, sex or age. It also obligates employers to provide a safe work environment free of harassment. An EEOC charge must be filed no later than 180 days after the last harassing offense in a hostile work environment case.
4. Request or wait for a notice of the right to sue.
Once the EEOC investigates a hostile work environment charge, it may issue a notice-of right-to-sue. This notice signals the right of employee to file a lawsuit in court based on charges of harassment constituting a hostile work environment.
Generally, the EEOC has 180 days to send the notice of right to sue. However, if an employee would like to move forward with a lawsuit before then, it may request a notice of right to sue earlier. In rare cases, the EEOC will issue a notice of right to sue before the 180 day time period is complete.
5. Locate a competent and experienced employment law attorney.
This step can be taken at any time during the process. In fact, it’s best to contact a competent and experienced employment law attorney as early in the process as possible. An attorney with outstanding expertise in the employment law field is critical to the success of any hostile work environment case. The assistance can be extremely valuable even during the EEOC charge filing process and is highly recommended.
What You Can Expect in a Hostile Work Environment Case
Whether the EEOC decides to represent your case of your receive a notice of right to sue and proceed with an attorney representing your case, there are certain elements that must be proven in order to establish that you have been working in a hostile work environment. Courts will consider the following based on the circumstances of a case.
(1) the frequency of the discriminatory conduct;
(2) the severity of the conduct;
(3) whether the conduct is physically threatening or humiliating, or a mere offensive utterance; and
(4) whether the conduct unreasonably interferes with the employee’s work performance. Harris v. Forklift Sys., Inc. 510 U.S. 17, 23 (1993).
In evaluating your particular circumstances, use the above criteria to determine whether your situation represents a violation of the law. Keep in mind that the offenses must be discriminatory in nature, ie. based on an employee’s membership in at least one of the protected categories noted in Title VII.
The instances creating the hostile environment should also be more than sporadic slights or occasional teasing. Additionally, some federal courts will also take into consideration whether or not the employer knew or should have known of the harassing conduct and failed to address it.
The Most Important Thing You Can Do in a Hostile Work Environment
The most important thing you can do if you work in a hostile work environment is to reach out to a credible and reliable attorney for help. The attorneys at Shegerian & Associates are standing by to give you the assistance you need to get the justice you deserve and to obtain relief from your hostile work environment.