When someone singles you out as a target of aggression, criticism, or even just excessive attention that is not necessarily negative, it makes you want to avoid interacting with that person. You felt a huge sense of relief when you finished the fourth grade because you had finally reached a summer of not having to deal with the classmates who had picked on you all year, and, based on probability alone, it was unlikely that all of the kids who made you miserable in fourth grade would be in your class in fifth grade. Likewise, the semester in college where one of your professors seemed to have it in for you and never gave you good grades, no matter how hard you worked, could not be over soon enough. Being single during the holidays was plenty demoralizing, but spending the holidays with your in-laws, who seem to find fault with you no matter what you do, is equally stressful.
At work, one hopes that everyone puts professionalism above pettiness and personal grudges, but unfortunately, this is not always the case. The workforce has its share of jerks, bullies, and mean girls. There is no law against not having good manners, but legal remedies are available to employees when coworkers intentionally interfere with their ability to do their jobs. The San Francisco hostile work employment lawyers can help you if your coworkers are intentionally trying to make it difficult for you to focus on work with their threatening, demeaning, or bothersome behavior.
Discrimination, Retaliation, or Just an Unpleasant Place to Work?
If you are experiencing a hostile work environment, you know it, and you know who is causing it, but it may not be easy to describe the actions of the hostile parties in a way that any reasonable person would recognize as a violation of employment laws. The following behaviors, if they interfere with your ability to perform your work duties, and especially if they happen frequently, can count as a hostile work environment:
- Constantly interrupting you while you are working
- Making derogatory comments about you or about groups with which you are affiliated or to which you belong
- Scrutinizing your work more closely than the situation requires
- Giving you conflicting sets of instructions or not providing you with enough information for you to be able to do your work correctly or on time
- Unwanted touching
- Malicious rumors
- Threats of violence or threats of adverse actions such as termination of employment
In other words, a hostile work environment is one characterized by harassment, and the law protects against harassment in many different situations.
In the context of employment law, hostile work environment claims are not simply about hostility. The motivation for the hostile behavior is also an important part of your claim. For example, if the harassment is due to a protected characteristic of the employee, such as the employee’s race or sex, then it is employment discrimination. If the harassment happens in response to the employee taking a family leave or reporting the employer’s misconduct to regulatory authorities, then it is employer retaliation. Discrimination and retaliation are both against the law, whether in the form of a hostile work environment or in other manifestations.
How Do You Prove That a Joke Was Mean-Spirited?
A hostile work environment is often a combination of hundreds or thousands of annoying, unsettling, or intimidating actions. If you were to complain about just one of them, though, it probably would not make for a compelling legal case. “My boss said that [name of celebrity] has a mom bod” will not, by itself, convince the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that you have grounds for a discrimination lawsuit. You do, however, have grounds if, since you started your job, your boss has made derogatory comments about women and mothers on a daily basis, even if those comments were not specifically directed at you.
When you are trying to prove that your employer is creating a hostile work environment, you must show that it is a pattern of behavior rather than just an isolated incident. If your work supervisor’s comments are frequent enough and hurtful enough that you still remember them after you get home from work, it is time to start writing them down. Document what your supervisor said, when he said it, and in what context. You may notice a pattern of your supervisor singling you out or targeting a protected characteristic of yours, such as your race or family status.
A Hostile Work Environment Often Occurs in Tandem With Other Adverse Actions
The bad news is that hostile work environments usually do not just go away on their own. A much more likely scenario is that the harassment escalates. If you read court decisions about employment discrimination lawsuits, you often see a pattern of discrimination that begins with harassment and derogatory comments. When the plaintiff applies for promotions or complains about the hostile supervisor’s actions, even if the actions about which the plaintiff complains did not target the plaintiff, the hostile supervisor intensifies the harassment. It often ends with the employer terminating the plaintiff’s employment in retaliation for the plaintiff’s complaints or with the plaintiff quitting the job because the work environment became unbearable.
Before things get that bad, you should contact a San Francisco hostile work environment lawyer. Your lawyer will help you prepare to discuss matters with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Before you can file an employment discrimination lawsuit, the EEOC must investigate your claims and see whether they are credible or whether the behaviors you are describing fit the definition of employment discrimination. You can only file a lawsuit after the EEOC authorizes you to do so.
Contact HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP About a Hostile Work Environment in San Francisco
The San Francisco employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP can help you if you are experiencing workplace harassment and a hostile work environment. Contact the employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP in San Francisco, California, to set up a consultation.