When one student is persistently mean to another in a school setting, it is called bullying, and its manifestations can include name-calling, ridicule, malicious rumors, and outright intimidation. When the same things take place in a work setting, it is called a hostile work environment. While dealing with mean, thoughtless, and malicious people is a part of life and the law cannot force people to be nice, you do have some legal protections against coworkers and supervisors treating you in a hostile manner if their mistreatment of you is related to a legally protected characteristic of yours or is because of your participation in an investigation about discrimination or ethical violations in your workplace. If people at your place of employment are harassing you or otherwise intentionally creating an unbearable work environment, contact the Charlotte employment discrimination lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP.
Why Do Employers Create a Hostile Work Environment for Employees?
The reasons that people mistreat each other are far too complex and too varied to be treated thoroughly on an employment discrimination law firm blog post, and from a legal perspective, the actions matter more than the motives. Some people have a chip on their shoulder for reasons known only to them, and some managers thrive on bossing other people around because of their own insecurity. If you can demonstrate that your supervisor’s ill treatment of you was related to a protected characteristic or protected action of yours, though, then you are in a strong position to file an employment discrimination complaint against your boss and your employer and to cite hostile work environment as the type of discrimination you experienced.
Pursuant to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and other federal legislation, the law recognizes the following as protected categories, meaning that employers are not allowed to discriminate against employees because of their:
- Race, skin color, ethnic background, or national origin
- Sex, gender, or sexual orientation
- Age (over 40 years of age)
- Religion, sect, or lack of religious belief
- Temporary or permanent disability
Besides these protected categories, the law prohibits employers from discriminating or retaliating against employees who file discrimination complaints, request reasonable accommodations for a disability, or participate into an investigation about discrimination or ethical breaches, or act as whistleblowers.
Hostile Work Environment is a Type of Employment Discrimination
Employment discrimination can manifest itself in a variety of adverse actions taken by employers against employees because of protected characteristics or in retaliation for the employee’s internal or external complaint or participation into an investigation. These are some examples of adverse actions frequently cited in employment discrimination complaints:
- Refusal to hire, even though the applicant is qualified for the job
- Wrongful termination of employment
- Denial of pay raises and promotions
- Malicious or unfairly negative performance reviews
- Demotion or reduction in pay grade
Besides or in addition to these adverse actions, which are isolated incidents and therefore easy to document, employers may also create a hostile environment for employees with a certain protected characteristic or employees who complain about discrimination or who participate in investigations into discrimination complaints. If you are in a hostile work environment, you know it, but your coworkers might try to discredit you or tell you that you are overreacting; gaslighting is a common feature of hostile environments. If you witness any of the following kinds of behavior in your work place, you should keep a journal of incidents so that you can mention their details and dates when filing a discrimination complaint:
- Name-calling or making derogatory remarks about you to your face or in your presence
- Ignoring you at meetings or discrediting your contributions in the workplace
- Using offensive language to refer to your protected characteristic or making jokes based on stereotypes about the protected characteristic
- Subjecting you to scrutiny that other employees who hold a similar position to yours are not required to undergo
- Withholding important information from you until deadlines are close, forcing you to work under greater pressure
- Withholding professional networking opportunities from you while sharing them with your coworkers
- Unwanted touching or flirtatious behavior
- Verbal threats or intimidating behavior
Hostile work environment is a legally recognized type of employment discrimination. You can prove that your employer has created a hostile work environment if the hostile behavior is only directed at you, as well as if multiple employees with the same protected characteristic have experienced similar mistreatment in your workplace.
When and How to Speak Up About a Hostile Work Environment
If the hostile work environment has been going on long enough for you to notice a pattern of hostile behavior from your supervisors or coworkers, it is not too soon to discuss matters with the Charlotte employment discrimination lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP. In fact, the sooner you contact a lawyer, the better.
If you plan to file an employment discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), you must file a pre-complaint notice no more than 45 days after the incident of discrimination occurred. If you are complaining about a hostile work environment, as opposed to an adverse action that happened on a single occasion, your lawyer can help you justify why you chose to file a pre-complaint notice about the most recent incidence of hostile behavior instead of any of the ones that came before it. Even if the hostile work situation has been going on for a long time, it is better to start working with a lawyer sooner rather than later. Even if your supervisors have been telling you that you are overreacting or imagining things, the law recognizes that hostile work environments are a real form of employment discrimination, and you have the same rights that you would have if you were complaining about wrongful termination of employment.
Contact a North Carolina Employment Lawyer About Hostile Work Environments
An employment lawyer can help you stand up to the workplace bullies who are creating a hostile work environment at your place of employment. Contact the employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP in Charlotte, North Carolina to set up a consultation.