Whether it is working with a difficult coworker, or a being asked to take on too many projects, we have all experienced unpleasantness in the workplace. Unfortunately, however, many workers in Kentucky deal with much more than the occasional inconvenience. Each year, hundreds of employees file complaints against their employers for subjecting them to a hostile work environment, alleging that the workplace has become toxic due to offensive and unwelcome workplace behavior.
Defining a hostile work environment
Not all unpleasant or uncomfortable situations constitute a hostile work environment. Generally, the following is required to establish a hostile work environment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964:
- Unwelcomed offensive or harassing behavior exists: Behaviors may include crude jokes, insensitive or offensive language, dissemination of inappropriate photos or videos, unwanted sexual advances, etc.
- Offensive or harassing behavior is severe and pervasive: Not just an isolated incident, but rather, continuous, and/or long-lasting.
- Offensive or harassing behavior is discriminatory in nature: Behavior must be based on the alleged victim’s membership in a protected class (e.g., age, race, gender, religion).
- Offensive or harassing behavior adversely affects alleged victim’s work: The harassment is negatively impacting the employee’s ability to do their job.
- Employer’s failure to act: Employer fails to investigate your claims and resolve the issue.
What should I do if I work in a hostile work environment?
As an employee who is experiencing a hostile work environment, your first step should be to tell the harasser to stop their offensive behavior. You will also need to keep a detailed record of all incidents of harassment and save all correspondence relating to the harassment, as well as file an internal complaint with your employer. You should also consider speaking to an employment law attorney to help decide what to do next.