When you started your new job, you most likely had high hopes and aspirations for the future. Things may have gone well for a while, but then you began to feel uncomfortable at work due to a supervisor or coworker’s behavior. Bullying in the workplace has gained a lot of attention lately, and rightly so. It makes people uncomfortable and creates a toxic atmosphere that prevents people from doing their job.
Sometimes bullying can become a hostile work environment, particularly when the bullying singles out people because of their gender, race, disability, religion, or other protected status.
What makes a hostile work environment?
When an individual directs the above type of behavior at only one group of employees, it may create a hostile work environment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, along with other state and local laws prohibiting discrimination. For instance, if the behavior is toward a group based on sex, race, religion, or another legally protected group, it may fall under the legal definition of a hostile work environment. The courts look at the following factors:
- How often does the discriminatory conduct occur?
- Does the behavior unreasonably interfere with your ability to do your job?
- How severe is the behavior?
- Is the conduct humiliating or physically threatening?
Depending on the answers to these questions, you may be the victim of a hostile work environment, and you would greatly benefit from discussing your situation with an employment law attorney.
What steps should you take?
Determining whether your situation constitutes a hostile work environment is only part of the equation. You most likely will not be able to simply file a complaint against your employer without first taking some other steps. Most companies have a policy and/or procedure regarding these situations, requiring reporting to senior management or human resources. You should try to give your employer the opportunity to correct the problem first. If those efforts do not fix the problem, or you end up retaliated against for making a complaint, then you may need to take your claim outside the company.
At this point, you may be considering quitting your job because it is simply unbearable. However, unless you are in physical danger or suffering severe emotional distress, you may want to consult with an attorney before moving forward.