You used to love your job, so why do you dread going to work these days? It is not your lack of work ethic. You certainly do not miss working remotely and trying to focus on work while children, pets, and housework compete for your attention; you much prefer the serenity of your office and the companionship of your colleagues, or at least you used to. Just as schoolyard bullying has soured many studious children on school, workplace bullying, also known as hostile work environment, has put a damper on many a competent employee’s career ambitions. Antagonizing your coworkers for reasons unrelated to their job performance is against the law; in fact, it is a form of employment discrimination. When work supervisors belittle you or make offensive comments about your personal characteristics, it is no less disruptive to your productivity than when an employer demotes you or places you on probation, but it is somewhat more difficult to document. The Philadelphia hostile work environment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP can help you defend yourself against harassment by coworkers and work supervisors.
Hostile Work Environment is an Adverse Action
A hostile work environment is when coworkers and work supervisors intentionally and needlessly make your experience at work unpleasant and interfere with your efforts to do your job. Work is not supposed to be all fun and games, so it does not count as a hostile work environment simply because your employer assigns you to difficult and unpleasant tasks when these are within your job description; if you work in a restaurant or a retail store, you will probably have to clean areas of the workspace that are grimy enough for the experience to make you want to clean all messes promptly in the future to avoid such a buildup of dirt. Similarly, dealing with irate customers is not for the faint of heart, but if you applied for a job in customer service or tech support, you will have to do it sometimes. Rather, a hostile work environment is when other employees harass you and insult you.
Employment laws regard hostile work environments as an adverse action taken by an employer. An adverse action is something that an employer does to punish an employee, fairly or unfairly. Other examples of adverse actions include negative performance reviews, denial of promotions, and termination of employment, among others. If an employer creates a hostile work environment because of a protected characteristic of yours, it is employment discrimination. If an employer creates a hostile work environment because you engaged in a protected activity, it is employer retaliation. Both discrimination and employer retaliation are against the law.
Filing a Discrimination Claim About a Hostile Work Environment
Discrimination is when an employer treats an employee unfairly because of a protected characteristic of the employee. Protected characteristics are elements of a person’s physical appearance, health, or personal history that are not directly related to the work being performed. For example, race, sex, military status, religion, age, pregnancy, sexual orientation, and disability are protected characteristics.
Filing a preliminary complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a prerequisite to filing an employment discrimination lawsuit. Many employees who contact the EEOC have previously complained about the discrimination they are experiencing to the human resources department in their own organizations. Pennsylvania employees also have recourse to the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC) when it comes to discrimination complaints. The EEOC will only launch an investigation based on your complaint if 45 days or fewer have passed since the most recent discriminatory action. It is a good idea to contact a lawyer to help you document the discrimination incidents in your workplace before you contact the EEOC, so you do not miss the opportunity to bring a discrimination lawsuit against your employer.
Hostile Work Environment is the Norm in Whistleblower Cases
Employer retaliation is when an employer takes adverse action against an employee because he or she engaged in a protected activity. A protected activity is something that benefits the employee, and although it may cost the employer time or money, the employee has the right to do it. Some protected activities involve the rights of employees to care for their own health and for their families. For example, requesting a leave of absence pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a protected activity, as is filing a worker’s compensation claim or requesting accommodations for a disability.
Other protected actions relate to the employee’s right to speak out against wrongdoing in the workplace. For example, reporting a safety violation in your workplace to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is a protected activity, and so is participating in a police investigation into alleged crimes at your workplace. Reporting a violation of the law or a breach of ethics to a regulatory body or to law enforcement is called a whistleblower action or a whistleblower claim. Employers often respond negatively to employees that make them look bad by telling the truth, and a hostile work environment often ensues.
No matter your line of work, you have the right to file an employer retaliation lawsuit if your employer creates a hostile work environment in response to your whistleblower action. If the misconduct you are reporting involves defrauding the federal government (for example, if you work in a doctor’s office and your employer files fraudulent claims with Medicare or Medicaid), then the federal False Claims Act protects you. This law enables you to file a qui tam action where, as a whistleblower, you are entitled to a percentage of the judgment that a court orders your employer to pay if the federal government prevails in a lawsuit against your employer.
Contact HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP About Employment Discrimination and Retaliation
The Philadelphia employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP can help you if your employer has created a hostile environment because you reported misconduct or just because you are you. Contact the employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to set up a consultation.