How to Tell if You are in a Hostile Work Environment

How to Tell if You are in a Hostile Work Environment

There are basically two forms of workplace sexual harassment. Quid pro quo harassment is the insistence on sexual favors for favorable treatment. Although quid pro quo harassment is usually subtle, it is usually not too difficult to spot.

Hostile environment sexual harassment is different. Many people do not know the legal definition of a hostile environment. They definitely do not know how to spot one. They also do not know their legal options.

The diligent Chicago employment law attorneys at the Law Office of Mitchell Kline thoroughly evaluate your case and lay out all your legal options. We carefully explain the pros and cons of each one. Then, once we decide on a course of action together, we never stop fighting for you.

What is a Hostile Environment?

In a nutshell, work environments are hostile if the surroundings substantially impair a worker’s ability to do his or her job. Furthermore, the hostility must be directed at persons in a protected class. Examples of workplace protected classes include race, ethnicity, national origin, disability, and age (over 40). 

Finally, the conduct must be long-lasting and pervasive. One or two-course jokes does not constitute a hostile environment. Anything more intense probably suffices.

The employer’s response is also part of this definition. Employers must be aware of the problem. Usually, they are unaware of these things unless someone reports them. There is no constructive knowledge provision in this part of the law. 

Additionally, the employer must fail to properly investigate the matter and take appropriate action. Investigations must be thorough, swift, and transparent. The response must be based on the investigation’s findings, and nothing else.

On a related note, employers have a responsibility to address third-party hostile environment claims, if they know there is a problem. These claims are especially common in the foodservice industry.

Examples of Hostile Environments

Occasional acts, like a single course joke, are unprofessional. People who make such remarks can and should be disciplined. However, such behavior is not a hostile environment in this context. This label is reserved for things like:

  • Talking about sex acts,
  • Making suggestive remarks,
  • Retelling jokes about people in protected classes,
  • Remarking inappropriately about a person’s appearance,
  • Displaying pictures or computer wallpaper that is racist, sexist, or otherwise inappropriate,
  • Using ethnic, sexual or other slurs,
  • Sabotaging a person’s career advancement through gossip or otherwise, and
  • Intentional and unwanted touching.

Harassment victims must usually report such misconduct to their supervisors first. If the employer fails to take corrective action, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is usually a victim’s next stop. If the EEOC refuses to act, which is often the case, victims may reach out to a Chicago employment lawyer.

Compensation in hostile environment claims usually includes economic losses, such as back pay and/or front pay. Compensation for noneconomic losses, such as emotional distress, might be available as well. Perhaps more importantly, legal action forces employers to treat everyone with respect and dignity.

Contact a Hard-Working Lawyer

Workers do not have to tolerate hostile environments. For a free consultation with an experienced Chicago employment lawyer, contact the Law Office of Mitchell A. Kline. We do not charge upfront legal fees in these matters.