New York employees have the right to work in a space free from harassment and discrimination. Unfortunately, many New York employees are subjected to pervasive and offensive actions that create a hostile work environment. When harassment or discrimination is serious enough, it can become an unlawful hostile work environment. New York state and federal law prohibit employers from allowing a hostile work environment to continue.
If you have been subjected to a hostile work environment, you may have a valid legal claim for compensation. The sooner you speak to an experienced attorney, the better. At HKM Employment Attorneys, we have a proven track record of successfully representing clients in various employment cases, including hostile work environments.
The Definition of a Hostile Work Environment Under Federal Law
State and federal laws protect workers against hostile work environments. Federally, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees from a hostile work environment resulting from harassment or discrimination in the workplace. Not all types of harassment and discrimination rise to the level of a hostile work environment. As an employee, you will need to show that you were harassed or abused because of your actual or perceived membership in a protected class, including the following:
- National origin
- Sexual orientation
- Pregnancy Status
- Disability Status
You will also need to show that the abuse and harassment were so severe and pervasive that it made the employment conditions unbearable for a reasonable employee and created a hostile work environment. A hostile work environment can be created by anyone in your workplace, including a co-worker, supervisor, customer, client, or third party.
The Definition of a Hostile Work Environment Under New York Law
The New York Law Human Rights Law also protects employees from hostile work environments at the state level. In New York, a hostile work environment claim can involve sexual harassment. However, sexual harassment is not the only type of discrimination that can create a valid hostile work environment claim in New York. New York employees must prove the following two elements to bring a compensation claim successfully:
- The workplace was permeated with discriminatory intimidation that was sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s work environment; and
- That a specific basis exists for imputing the conduct, creating a hostile work environment for the employer.
As with federal claims, New York courts will consider the frequency of the discriminatory conduct, whether it is physically threatening or humiliating or a mere offensive utterance, its severity, whether it unreasonably interferes with an employee’s work performance, and the effect on the employee’s psychological well-being.
Common Examples of Incidents That Create a Hostile Work Environment
Harassment and behavior creating unlawful hostile work environments can take many forms. The following are common examples of instances that can create a hostile work environment but do not constitute a comprehensive list:
- Sexual comments
- Inappropriate touching
- Inappropriate or crude emails or pictures
- Racial slurs
- Using offensive symbols, images, or gestures
- Racial slurs or epitaphs
- Physical violence
- Sexual violence
- Expressing negative opinions or stereotypes about a protected class
If you have experienced isolated incidents, casual comments, or teasing, these instances can make your job difficult. However, proving that a hostile work environment has occurred may be more difficult. If you are still determining whether you have a valid claim for compensation, the best thing you can do is reach out to an experienced attorney who can advise you of your rights.
Proving That a Hostile Work Environment Exists
As the employee bringing the claim, you will need to provide evidence that a hostile work environment has occurred in your workplace. You must show that it is severe and pervasive enough to constitute a hostile work environment. Generally, this involves showing that multiple offensive instances have occurred to create an ongoing problem. However, if you have experienced a severe and egregious incident, it may be enough to create a hostile work environment.
Courts will usually look at the severity and frequency of the conduct. If the conduct is nearly offensive speech or is subject to interpretation, they will be less likely to find that a hostile work environment exists.
Nonetheless, suppose there were physical threats, pervasive humiliation, serious bullying, and instances preventing a reasonable employee from being able to do their job, they will be more likely to determine that a hostile work environment exists. An attorney can help you gather evidence showing that the incidents were severe enough and the toll they have taken on your physical and mental health, making it difficult to do your job.
What to Do if You Want to File a New York Hostile Work Environment Claim
If you have been subjected to a hostile work environment in New York state, you may have concerns about your employer retaliating against you for reporting the claim. However, employers cannot retaliate against employees for reporting a hostile work environment. One of the most important things you can do is act promptly to protect your rights.
Try to collect evidence showing that your work environment is hostile. Write down instances that occur, including the dates they happened and any witnesses to the instances. You should also report your concerns to your employer.
If your employer does not take any action to stop the hostile work environment, you will need to show that you did notify your employer and that they did not take action. If there is any physical evidence, such as notes, emails, or text messages, take a screenshot of it. You should also keep a copy of the complaint you submitted and write down the impact of the hostile work environment on your health.
How to Pursue a Hostile Work Environment Claim
Pursuing a hostile work environment claim requires plaintiffs to take specific steps. Additionally, there are strict deadlines for filing a claim for a hostile work environment. Contact HKM Employment Attorneys to schedule a case evaluation and learn more about your legal rights and options.