Hostile work environment attorneys are those who specialize in discrimination and harassment cases. When an employee feels that the culture of the company he or she works for has produced an environment that is not only hostile to his or her career interests but hostile to the employee on a personal and emotional level, the employee may be entitled to sue the company for damages.
In these instances, an employee may have been passed up for a promotion based on gender or race, overtly discriminated against by other employees or management, had to endure abusive language, or sexually harassed in the workplace. Missouri law protects employees who have had to endure this kind of treatment even when their employers do not.
Understanding the Term “Hostile Work Environment” in Terms of the Law
In the simplest possible terms, a hostile work environment occurs when an employee faces harassment over an extended period of time due to his or her sex, age, race, disability, or national origin. An isolated incident of such harassment would not qualify as a hostile work environment. Nor would it be a hostile work environment if an employer took aims to punish incidences of harassment that were carried out by its employees.
There are a couple of different ways that illegal harassment or discriminatory punishment can happen in a workplace. The first is known as “Quid Pro Quo” harassment that occurs when an employee is retaliated against by an employer for discriminatory reasons. Hostile work environments, however, are a bit different.
In order for a workplace to be considered legally hostile, the culture of the workplace itself must show a repeated pattern of normalizing offensive, upsetting, or intimidating behavior. Furthermore, this behavior must be racially or sexually offensive, or if it is targeted at an older or disabled person, it would likewise qualify as an illegal form of harassment.
The sorts of behavior that would constitute a hostile workplace environment include:
- Overt chronic discussion of sexual exploits in the workplace
- Offensive or insensitive jokes that make light of a person’s age, disability, sex, or race
- Displaying sexually suggestive or racially insensitive pictures
- Inappropriate touching or aggressive physical conduct
- Inappropriate or unwanted sexual overtures
Proving a Hostile Work Environment in a Court of Law
It often happens that when an employee reports misconduct in terms of the environment or culture of a workplace that it is that person’s word against the employer’s. This generally hinders rather than helps an employee’s case. It is imperative, therefore, that an employee who feels intimidated, harassed, or uncomfortable in the workplace keep a record of communications that he or she has sent to the HR department and a journal of the events as they occur so that it can be referred to in terms of a timeline.
In order to prove that an employer has mismanaged the situation to the extent that he or she is fostering a hostile workplace, an employee must show a pattern of harassment or abuse and either tacit or overt managerial indifference or encouragement of the behavior.
HKM has handled a number of cases at our Kansas City office in which the management culture not only turned a blind eye to discriminatory behavior, but fostered and encouraged it in their workplaces. Not only is this unfair to employees that are only trying to make a living, federal and state law considers it a crime. If you have been the victim of a culture of discrimination, it is best to get a lawyer involved early in the process. Give us a call at 816.607.4691 and we will let you know precisely what kind of evidence you will need to prove your case.