As an employee, you deserve a healthy and positive working environment that supports growth and fosters respect. However, toxic workplaces are not uncommon. Some studies show that one in every five employees experiences a hostile workplace in the United States. A hostile workplace can adversely affect your mental and physical wellbeing, lower productivity, or even cause you to change careers.
If you experience a hostile workplace, always consult a hostile work environment lawyer before making any decision about your case. A Bellevue attorney who is experienced in cases involving hostile work environments can act as your advocate and provide the legal support you need to file a complaint or a lawsuit.
What Constitutes a Hostile Workplace?
A hostile workplace is a working environment where you face harassment or discriminatory behaviors that make you uncomfortable and impair your ability to perform your duties. Employment discrimination and harassment based on gender, race, ancestry, sexual orientation, national origin, marital status, color, religion, pregnancy, or disability at the workplace can make your working environment hostile.
These acts of discrimination can come from your employer, supervisor, manager, coworkers, or even third parties like your employer’s agent, clients, or regular visitors.
Note that not all unpleasant or annoying behaviors at the workplace constitute a toxic environment. Annoyances, petty slights, and isolated cases are not illegal and therefore not a basis for a claim. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), your situation should meet the following requirements to be considered a hostile workplace:
- The actions are discriminatory as a result of belonging to a protected class.
- The harassment or discrimination is severe, pervasive, and occurs persistently.
- Any reasonable person would also find the environment abusive or hostile.
- The behaviors disrupt your ability or desire to work.
- Your employer should be aware of the situation but has failed to address it adequately.
Behaviors that contribute to a hostile work environment may include sexual harassment, any form of discrimination, and verbal or non-verbal aggression. The use of unfair tactics to frustrate your career and offensive comments or slurs are also signs of a hostile workplace.
What to Do When You Find Yourself in a Hostile Working Environment
If you believe you’re dealing with a hostile working environment based on the information above, there are steps you can take before seeking legal action. Employees should:
1. Put the Offender on Notice: The first time you experience workplace hostility, tell the offender to stop the behavior. You can also seek help from your colleagues or supervisors to deter the harasser. In addition to helping you stop the harassment in the moment, the people you involve can act as your future witnesses should the problem continue.
2. Report the Matter to Management: After putting the offender on notice, you should immediately report the matter to your manager, human resources department, or employer. Reporting the situation to your employer allows them to conduct investigations and prevent future occurrences.
Note that you have to notify your employer about the issue before filing for a hostile work environment claim. Always ensure that you make the report in writing or via email for documentation purposes.
If the problem persists, then be sure to document all your experiences and indicate the date, time, and what transpired. Doing so helps establish a pattern of toxicity and will act as evidence of your allegations.
How to Prove a Hostile Work Environment Case
When filing a harassment claim, the burden of proof lies with the victim. With this in mind, always keep track of all incidences at work, and document any details related to your case. Below are some of the ways to prove your case:
Show evidence of company awareness of the situation.
You can do this by producing documentation and records of all your communication with management regarding the reported incidents.
You will have a stronger case if you can produce witnesses.
Note the details of anyone that might have been present and seen what happened. You can ask your witnesses to write a statement of what they saw so you can hand it to your employment lawyer.
When you face hostility in the workplace, other staff members who witness the discrimination or harassment are also considered victims. They can also file a legal claim against your employer, even though they are not the direct targets.
Show proof of the impact on your work performance or health.
To do this, you should keep your medical records and performance reviews from when you start experiencing hostility at work.
Your hostile workplace lawyer will help you gather the evidence needed to strengthen your case should you need to file a lawsuit. Should you successfully prove your discrimination claims, you may be liable for compensation for damages or loss due to the discrimination. If you suffered wrongful termination, you may be reinstated to your rightful position.
Can I Sue My Employer for Creating a Hostile Work Environment?
If you reported the hostile workplace issues to your employer and they failed to address the problem, then you are within your rights to take legal action. An experienced employment law attorney in Bellevue can provide the legal representation you need to get through the litigation process.
Employees in Bellevue, Washington don’t have to endure a hostile workplace or workplace harassment. HKM Employment Attorneys are here to help you seek the justice you deserve. Contact our law firm in Bellevue for assistance with handling your hostile workplace case.