Recognizing a Hostile Work Environment in Your Workplace
When running a business or a workplace, you may already know to watch out for sexual harassment or discriminatory practices. But often, these things happen in what is known as a hostile work environment.
This is a very particular type of harassment or discrimination, that can be hard for a business owner to identify—but which business owners must be aware of, as they can be sued for harassment when it happens.
What is a Hostile Work Environment?
As the name implies, a hostile work environment happens when the entire workplace is poisoned with harassment or abuse or discrimination.
Unlike direct discrimination or harassment, hostile workplace lawsuits don’t often happen when one employee abuses or harasses another. In fact, no one employee may ever be a direct target of harassment.
Examples of hospital work environments may be:
- Workplaces where employees tell lewd, sexual and misogynistic jokes
- Workplaces where pornography is circulated on emails and work message boards
- Workplaces where men talk in a derogatory nature about women in general
- Workplaces where racial or religious jokes are made, or where entire races or nationalities, are openly made fun of
Many business owners, seeing or hearing these activities in their offices or workplaces, may just laugh them off, dismissing them as harmless banter by employees. They may just assume that since no one person is being individually targeted, there is no harm done.
Many business owners may not even know this kind of harassment is even happening—this is the kind of activity that often happens away from the eyes and ears of management.
But the environment can become so toxic, embarrassing, humiliating or degrading to people of a given gender or nationality, that the entire workplace is poisoned. When that happens, you can expect your business to be a target of a hostile work environment lawsuit.
Proving Hostile Work Environment
The offending behavior must be severe and pervasive—but doesn’t have to be both.
In other words, very hostile and demeaning behavior that happens infrequently can lead to a hostile workplace lawsuit, as can mild, slightly offensive behavior that happens often. Courts will look to severity; an insulting joke every now and then will not create the liability that may happen as compared to a workplace where bosses are continually calling women names and grabbing their body parts.
Whether something is, actually, hostile or offensive, is generally measured objectively. Although the aggrieved employee’s subjective feelings are relevant and will be heard by a court, whether the offending behavior really would be offensive or hostile is based on what reasonable people in a community would believe.
Have a Policy
The best course is to always have a written policy of what kinds of behaviors are and are not tolerated, and a clear policy of how an employee who feels he or she is the subject of a hostile work environment, can safely and confidentially report that behavior.
Call the West Palm Beach business litigation lawyers at Pike & Lustig today to make sure your business can defend any employment lawsuit that may be brought against it.