What is a Hostile Work Environment?
While there are no laws specifically governing a “hostile work environment” stated as such, certain laws on workplace discrimination and harassment can apply to these situations. In life, a hostile work environment can occur due to workplace conduct which is contrary to your comfort and peace of mind as an employee and is caused by some type of unfair discrimination or discriminatory harassment. The perpetrator may be your immediate boss, a senior staff member, a co-worker or even someone not directly employed by the organization, though what you need to show to prove a hostile work environment may differ depending on the identity of the perpetrator. If their actions create an intimidating and offensive work environment, this is illegal. In many cases, the conduct in question is open to interpretation as to its intent and effect, or even if quite clear, can be hard to prove. It takes a skilled Portland employment lawyer to develop a legally valid claim and present a compelling case in the fight to defend your rights.
Hostile work environment claims often cite instances of harassment on the basis of disability discrimination, age discrimination, sexual orientation discrimination, religious discrimination, sex discrimination or race discrimination. In other words, the harassment is being directed specifically at you because of some personal trait that is protected under the law. If the harassment if significant and recurring, and you reasonably believe that it must continue to be endured in order to maintain your employment, this constitutes a hostile work environment. The additional federal laws that support you when you feel you are facing this situation include Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Oregon’s state anti-discrimination laws provide even more workplace protections for employees across the state. Both these state and federal laws identify protected personal traits and prohibit harassment – and therefore the creation of a hostile work environment – on the basis of those traits.
In general, if an employee alleges that he or she is experiencing a hostile work environment, his or her employer should conduct an internal investigation to understand the reality of the situation. If the employer finds that there is a hostile work environment, he or she is required to redress the problem and stop the work environment from being hostile. Even if the investigation concludes that there is no merit to the employee’s complaint, the employer should still inform the employee about the investigation’s findings. If the employer refuses or simply fails to deal with the problem – or, indeed, if the employer itself is the source of the problem – the employee can file a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC conducts its own investigation into the charge of a hostile work environment, and may also file suit against the employer on the employee’s behalf. Having an experienced attorney who can help guide you through the different processes can help you fight back against a hostile work environment.
Employment Law Attorney for Employers Throughout Oregon
For help addressing a hostile work environment and filing a charge with the relevant authority as needed, talk to HKM Employment Attorneys. We focus on employment law and our legal team has been litigating employment claims for many years. One of our attorneys, Mr. Kalish, is the chief author of the 2010 and 2011 editions of a lawyer’s practice manual on employment discrimination.
Contact a Portland employment law attorney if you feel you are the victim of a hostile work environment.