You know a hostile environment when you are in one. The mean girls in high school. Your ex-fiance’s family that never really gave you a chance, even though you tried so hard to make a good impression on them. The worst part about hostile environments is that the people who are making the environment intolerable for you usually deny that they are doing anything wrong. They often claim that you are taking offense to completely harmless actions and that, even if they had done something that a reasonable person would consider upsetting, your response is disproportionate. Under federal employment discrimination laws, creating a hostile work environment for an employee because of a protected characteristic of the employee (such as race, religion, or gender) or because the employee complained about the discrimination they experienced or because the employee requested a reasonable accommodation for a documented disability counts as employment discrimination. If your co-workers are antagonizing you at work, contact the Alabama employment discrimination lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP.
Your Legal Protections Against Employment Discrimination
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 made employment discrimination illegal, and in the decades that have passed since it was enacted, additional laws have gone into effect that have expanded the protected categories based on which employees must not be subjected to discrimination. These newer laws have also defined discrimination in more detail. In addition to federal laws such as the Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), states are free to guarantee workers additional protections from employment discrimination; Alabama follows the federal laws regarding employment discrimination and does not provide any additional protections at the state level. The only state-specific employment discrimination law in Alabama relates to age discrimination against employees over the age of 40.
These are the protected categories under current employment discrimination laws:
- Race, color, ethnicity, or country of origin
- Religion, sect, denomination, or lack of religious belief
- Sex, gender (including gender identity and gender presentation), or sexual orientation
- Age, if the employee is over 40 at the time of the discrimination
- Marital status, being a parent or having the potential to become one, or pregnancy
- Medically diagnosed disability, or requesting reasonable accommodations for a disability
If an employer refuses to hire you or treats you unfairly at work because of any of these characteristics, it is employment discrimination. If you are unsure whether the treatment you are receiving at work fits the legal definition of discrimination, contact the Alabama employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP.
What is a Hostile Work Environment?
If an employer takes adverse action against an employee or job candidate based on a protected characteristic, it is employment discrimination. A hostile work environment is just one of the adverse actions that count as grounds for a discrimination complaint; other examples of adverse actions include refusal to hire, unfair termination of employment, denial of promotions or raises, unfairly negative performance reviews, or providing a negative reference for a former employee to that employee’s prospective employers.
A hostile work environment is one where harassment is ongoing and often comes from more than one person. Behaviors that can contribute to a hostile work environment include derogatory comments about the employee or about a protected characteristic that the employee possesses, inappropriate jokes that make the employee uncomfortable, spreading rumors or malicious gossip about the employee, and excluding the employee from social conversations at work, to name just a few examples. Almost all the tactics that children use to torment each other at school can reappear in the workplace in the form of workplace harassment. The most insidious of these is that employees who complain about harassment by their co-workers are made to feel that the mistreatment they are receiving is their own fault or that it is not important enough to warrant taking actions to protect the employee from further harassment.
Documenting a Hostile Work Environment and Filing a Complaint
If your co-workers are creating a hostile work environment for you, and if your supervisors are doing nothing to stop the harassment, it is never too soon to meet with an employment lawyer. The statute of limitations (about six months) for filing an employment discrimination lawsuit is 180 days after the discrimination took place. By nature, a hostile work environment is an ongoing situation and not an isolated incident, so for purposes of the statute of limitations, you should cite the most recent incident of harassment.
If you are a federal employee, time is even more of the essence in filing employment discrimination complaints. Federal employees must contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) no more than 45 days after the incident of discrimination. When they receive notice from the EEOC that they have the right to file a complaint through the EEOC, they have 90 days from the date of the notice. Putting together a persuasive complaint in a short time requires expertise, which is why it is important to work with the Alabama employment discrimination lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP instead of trying to file the complaint on your own. Your lawyer can help you avoid procedural mistakes and can ensure that your complaint includes all relevant information that would strengthen your case.
Contact an Alabama Employment Lawyer About Hostile Work Environments and Other Forms of Employment Discrimination
Employment discrimination is not always so clear cut as an employer refusing, explicitly or implicitly, to hire employees with a certain protected characteristic. An Alabama employment lawyer can help you if your co-workers are making your work situation unbearable through an ongoing pattern of ill treatment. Contact the Alabama employment discrimination lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP to set up a consultation.