“But blessed is the man who trusts me, God, the woman who sticks with God. They’re like trees replanted in Eden, putting down roots near the rivers—never a worry through the hottest of summers, never dropping a leaf, serene and calm through droughts, bearing fresh fruit every season.” (Jeremiah 17:7-8, MSG).
The first time I encountered a hostile work environment, I consulted my attorney and filed a formal grievance. The second time I encountered a hostile work environment, I consulted myself and quit my job. The third time I encountered a hostile work environment, I consulted God.
I know all too well what it means to loathe my profession, job responsibilities, bosses and coworkers. As a Christian, I am called to LOVE, not loathe. The energy involved in loathing is draining, numbing and self-destructive. Having learned from my first and second encounters, I knew consulting God was the right thing to do when havoc broke loose in the workplace a third time.
Following is a detailed account of my third encounter in a hostile workplace. Three instances moved me to trust in Hashem (The Name)—“the holy God who dwells in our midst, hearing and answering our prayers.” (Spangler, Ann. Praying the Names of God. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004.). Three coping mechanisms confirmed my trust in Hashem. And, three reactions demonstrated my love for Hashem.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009, approximately 3:43am
Unfortunately, sometimes we have to deal with bigots and simpletons in life. I woke up this morning frustrated about a professional matter and I prayed Psalm 35 (The Message translation). When I arrived to my desk part of the answer to my prayer was my inability to Log In on my computer. Another answer is that I can visibly see that my Enemy has been caught in the trap intended for me.
Date Unknown, approximately 12:40pm (lunch hour)
3 of us (me, KJ and my Enemy) were dining in the office break room when my Enemy spoke a racial epithet and justified the statement with a second ignorant remark. From the soles of my feet to the top of my locs, my blood curdled. I asked God to keep me still and calm until 1:00pm, as I repeated Isaiah 26:3 in my head:
Thou wilt keep her in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because she trusteth in thee.
As soon as I returned to my desk, I called my prayer partner and told her: “I can’t go into details, but you need to pray for me right now!”
Tuesday, February 23, 2010, 9:43am
I received the following e-mail from my Enemy:
Subject: Please stock the fridge with caffeine-free Diet Coke
I was able to cope with the Enemy in my workplace because I kept a “heavenly perspective” and trusted God to be my Defender. Three scriptures helped me maintain my sanity and sustain my serenity:
- Psalm 35:4-8, MSG;
- Proverbs 2:12, NIV; and
- 1 Samuel 24:12-13, NIV.
COPING MECHANISM #1 Monday, November 16, 2009, approximately 4:30pm
When my Enemy asked me to type numerous pages of her handwritten notes, at the end of her workday, because she wasn’t a fast typist, I looked at her with a side-eye.
Seriously?! How is it that you’re not a fast typist, but you were hired because you’re a proficient blogger?!
It was easy for me to discern that my Enemy was conniving and thought I could not complete the transcribing task by her Wednesday, November 18, 2009 deadline. Yet, I stayed in the office on Tuesday evening to finish the transcription of notes. What my Enemy failed to take into account was the fact that some of her handwriting was illegible, so she had to hurriedly fill in numerous blanks within the transcript on Wednesday morning because she was due in court by 1:00pm.
When those thugs try to knife me in the back, make them look foolish. Frustrate all those who are plotting my downfall. Make them like cinders in a high wind, with God’s angel working the bellows. Make their road lightless and mud-slick, with God’s angel on their tails. Out of sheer cussedness they set a trap to catch me; for no good reason they dug a ditch to stop me. Surprise them with your ambush—catch them in the very trap they set, the disaster they planned for me. (Psalm 35:4-8, MSG).
COPING MECHANISM #2
Unknown Date, Approximately 12:40pm (lunch hour)
When my Enemy uttered the racial epithet in the office break room with ease, I knew she was dangerous. Although, she did not make derogatory remarks about the African race, her remarks were obscene. It was safe for me to assume that my Enemy’s opprobrious conduct could reoccur at any time.
Wisdom saved me from the way of a wicked woman, from a woman whose words were perverse. (Proverbs 2:12, NIV).
Though her remarks infuriated me, I stayed seated at the dining table because I did not want my Enemy to visibly see how her words rattled me. I actually managed to convey in a peaceful tone of voice that her remarks were offensive.
COPING MECHANISM #3
Tuesday, February 23, 2010, 9:43am
When my Enemy sent me the one-liner e-mail asking me to stock the office refrigerator with her preferred beverage, I knew she bumped her head and thought my name changed to Kizzy.
Considering the previous attacks, I recognized my Enemy as being onerous and a bigot. This third attack proved to me that she was an absolute fool! All 14 people in our office know where the beverages are stored, so she could have easily obtained her own drink.
Again, I relied on the Word of the LORD to sustain my serenity:
May the LORD judge between you and me. And may the LORD avenge the wrongs you have done to me, but my hand will not touch you. As the old saying goes, ‘From evildoers come evil deeds,’ so my hand will not touch you. (1 Samuel 24:12-13, NIV).
Reflecting on my weeklong study of The Name, I realized that my reactions to the aforementioned instances demonstrated my love for Hashem. According to Ann Spangler, “Loving God’s name mean upholding his reputation by reflecting his character, by trusting him, and by praying in a way that acknowledges his nature—that he is full of power, love, goodness, and faithfulness.”
Wednesday, November 18, 2009, 9am-12pm
I know from my study of Proverbs that I should not “gloat when my enemy falls;” when my enemy stumbles, my heart should not rejoice. (Proverbs 24:17, NIV). I simply acknowledge God’s sovereignty and take notice of how God answers my prayers.
- I completed the task of transcribing voluminous handwritten notes to the best of my ability on the evening of Tuesday, November 17, 2009.
- Although my computer wasn’t functioning properly at 9am, I still offered to help my Enemy with her task because I knew she had to be in court at 1:00pm.
- When my computer resumed its normal function, I continued to offer assistance with numbering the transcript line by line.
I received this one-liner e-mail from my Enemy:
Subject: Thank you for your help today.
Date: Wednesday, November 18, 2009 3:47PM
1 day after the break room incident, Approximately 9:00am-11:30am
I explained to both of my bosses, in separate conversations, that I would no longer dine with their employee (my coworker & Enemy).
Since 2006, I’ve enjoyed my work and my work environment. When I step through the office door, I uphold the reputation of a law firm that represents people of all ethnicities. Not until yesterday did I hear a representative of this firm use a racially offensive term. I don’t care what folks say outside of my presence, outside of this office, but I will not tolerate such revolting behavior in my workplace. It is safe for me to assume that this employee will make an offensive comment about my ethnicity and we will have a problem. Hence, my future lunch hours will be serene and calm, and free of their employee’s presence.
- My employers listened to my concerns.
- My employers respected my decision.
- My Enemy’s mouth was kept shut from speaking to me from that day forward, except for entertaining professional discussions.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010, 9:54am-1:30pm
- KJ, my lunch mate, friend and receptionist for the firm we share office space with; and
- Patricia, my prayer partner.
The e-mail I sent to KJ stated:
Date: Tuesday, February 23, 2010 9:54AM
Subject: FW: Please stock the fridge with caffeine-free Diet Coke.
UNBELIEVEABLE!! Let’s see how long it takes me to complete this task.
The e-mail I sent to Patricia stated:
Simply because this is Malkia’s designated week for kitchen duty, I guess she thought it was appropriate to send this message to me?! UNBELIEVABLE!
By 1:00pm my employers asked me to meet with them. Somehow, my bosses found out about the senseless e-mail. They asked me how I felt about the message. Essentially, I explained that I interpreted the e-mail as laughable.
At this point, her antics are so ludicrous, it’s a waste of energy and time to respond to her foolishness because I have to complete important tasks for the both of you. If she thought I was going to step away from my desk to put some caffeine-free Diet Coke in the refrigerator, she thought wrong—NOT TODAY!
One of my employers even suggested I speak to my Enemy, in an effort to help her understand that her request was inappropriate. My response:
JESUS CAN HELP HER!
- My employers actually care about my well-being.
- I was able to share my authentic feelings and thoughts with my employers.
Life is challenging because the workplace can be hostile. The Enemy can show up on the job in various forms (i.e., manager, coworker, client) and “delight in doing wrong and rejoice in the perverseness of evil.” (Proverbs 2:14, NIV). Life is good because I can consult the Word of God and refer to the life of David to learn how to stand in a hostile work environment. Life is abundant because when I submit myself to God and resist the Enemy, the Enemy flees; when I draw near to God, God draws near to me! (James 4:7-8, NIV).Dear God:
I love Your name. I praise Your name. I respect Your name. “Your name, O LORD, endures forever, your renown, O LORD, through all generations.” (Psalm 135:13, NIV).
Like David, I am not afraid to come to You and express my authentic feelings and needs. (Psalm 54:3, 4, NIV Application Notes). Like David, when I asked You to repay evil to my Enemy, I simply stated my confidence in Your promise to fight my battles. (Psalm 54:5, NIV Application Notes).
Enduring unwarranted mistreatment is not a foreign concept to me, so when the Enemy showed up in my current workplace, I willingly turned the entire matter over to You. The moment I prayed The Message translation of Psalm 35, I put all of my hope in your Word and trusted You to be my Defender. (Psalm 119:114, NIV).
O LORD, I consulted You because if it were up to me to resolve my dealings with the Enemy, I would have lost my job a year ago. Although I have never been an advocate of violence, my Enemy’s words and behavior were worthy of 2 beat downs in the break room. For nearly 2 years, I have endured unwarranted mistreatment from my Enemy. O LORD, You know how many times I’ve sat at my desk and given myself the same pep talk in order to cope with my Enemy–I’ve had to remind myself of 3 things on a frequent basis:
- It is a foreign concept for me to intentionally mistreat others;
- It is a foreign concept for me to operate like a sphincter; and
- It is a foreign concept for me to function at the maturity level of a zygote.
When I was on the verge of rendering a break room beat down, I reminded myself that I did not have to lose my favor, integrity and peace over someone whose path was crooked and whose ways were devious. (Proverbs 2:15, NIV).
If it’s possible, it’s a natural occurrence for me to “live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18, NIV). However, I must admit that I did not leave room for Your wrath after Instance #3. (Romans 12:19, NIV). Two days later, during my lunch hour, I shook up 4 cans of caffeine-free Diet Coke and placed them in the refrigerator door. I did notice that my Enemy entered the break room and retrieved something from the refrigerator, but because my back was turned I was not aware of the item she retrieved. I was certain she picked up one of the agitated cans when she returned to the break room to gather several paper towels off the spindle. The rumble of paper towels coming off the roll was so sweet. As that instance granted comic relief, forgive me, O LORD, for taking pleasure in vengeance.
When I review the past 2 years with “spiritual” eyes:
- my Enemy’s office has always been situated down the hall from me and my bosses–like a detachment;
- my Enemy’s mouth has been kept shut from speaking to me;
- my bosses never cease to ask me about my well-being;
- childbirth was the means for the temporary removal of my Enemy from the workplace; and
- acceptance of a new job was the means for the permanent removal of my Enemy from the workplace.
O LORD, I intercede for every person that encounters a hostile workplace. Somebody dreads walking in the office doorway because the Enemy is poised to attack. Somebody self-medicates because the Enemy’s antics prompt tension headaches. Somebody can’t relax because their teeth are clinched, their neck is stiff, and their shoulders are tight. Somebody is scheduling weekly therapy sessions to talk about their troubles. Somebody is physically sick from having to share their workspace with the Enemy. Somebody can’t rest peacefully because they’re fighting the Enemy in their sleep. Somebody is millimeters away from committing a break room beat down. Before they’re “overcome by evil” let them meditate on your Word. (Romans 12:21, NIV). If they can only speak one word, let them speak The Name, Hashem! I am a living witness that your Word works! If I stick with You, O God… If I stand upright like that replanted tree in Eden… I don’t have to worry about the heat from all the hell the Enemy raises. I never have to stoop to the level of the Enemy. I can have perfect peace in the midst of a hostile workplace. I can bear the fresh fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23, NIV). I can shout “God always wins!”
In the name of Jesus Christ…AMEN.
I will praise you forever for what you have done; in your name I will hope, for your name is good. I will praise you in the presence of your saints. (Psalm 52:9, NIV).
The phrase hostile work environment is a civil law term that refers to the behavior of an individual in a workplace that creates an environment that makes work difficult or uncomfortable for another person. This includes behavior that may leave another employee feeling afraid or violated. Such offensive behavior happens in many forms, including sexual harassment. To explore this concept, consider the following hostile work environment definition.
Table of contents
- 1 Definition of Hostile Work Environment
- 2 What is a Hostile Work Environment
- 3 Steps to Deal with a Hostile Work Environment
- 4 Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
- 5 Hostile Work Environment Laws
- 6 Employer Liability
- 7 Civil Lawsuit for Supervisor-Caused Hostile Work Environment
- 8 Related Legal Terms and Issues
- 9 What is a Hostile Work Environment?
- 10 Religious Harassment
- 11 Contact a Colorado Hostile Work Environment Attorney
Definition of Hostile Work Environment
- Unwelcome or offensive behavior in the workplace, which causes one or more employees to feel uncomfortable, scared, or intimidated in their place of employment.
What is a Hostile Work Environment
When an individual in the workplace feels scared, intimidated, or uncomfortable due to abuse or intimidation by a coworker, it creates what is called a hostile work environment. While any number of behaviors might create a hostile work environment, any conduct or actions that create an environment in which an employee dreads going to work is generally seen to create such a setting.
A hostile work environment is sometimes referred to as an “offensive work environment,” or an “abusive work environment.” The individual causing a hostile work environment may be an employee, a supervisor, an owner, or even and independent contractor. There are federal and state laws in place to protect employees from being subjected to workplace hostility.
Steps to Deal with a Hostile Work Environment
There are certain steps for anyone experiencing a situation that makes their work environment difficult or unbearable. These are centered around giving notice that the behavior is unwanted, and documenting the behavior. Steps to deal with a hostile work environment include:
- Ask the employee or other person to stop the behavior, and document the request. If the victim feels too afraid or too intimidated to make this request himself, he should ask his direct supervisor or human resources to make the request.
- Keep a log of incidents involving harassment or abuse, including the dates, times, and circumstances. Keep copies of offending communications, such as emails, text messages, voicemail messages, notes, and gifts.
- If the offending employee does not stop the behavior, report the issue to a supervisor, supplying him with any proof of the behavior, and let him know you have already asked that the employee stop.
- If the offending employee continues the behavior, or begins other harassing behavior in retribution, report this circumstance again to the supervisor.
- If, after following the chain of command as outlined in the company’s guidelines, the offending employee continues in unacceptable behavior, and the employer does not take definitive steps to stop the behavior, file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
It should be noted that if, at any time, the offensive behavior rises to the level of breaking the law, or of truly making the victim fear for his or her safety, the incidents should be reported to the police. A copy of the police report should then be given to the employer as a part of the ongoing hostile work environment complaint.
If the offensive actions branch out from the workplace to the victim’s home or other activities, a police report should be made immediately. In such cases, a restraining order can be obtained through the court system. To obtain information and forms for requesting a restraining order, the victim may visit the state’s court system website, or making a phone call to the state court civil clerk’s office
Alonzo began making advances toward Julia a mere three days into his new job. After rejecting Alonzo’s actions and requests for a date, Julia started receiving suggestive email messages in her company account. When, a few weeks later, Alonzo started leaving little gifts on her desk, Julia sent an email to Alonzo making it clear that she wasn’t interested in a personal relationship, and asking him to stop all of his actions toward her.
When Julia received text messages from Alonzo, trying to jeer her into paying attention to him, Julia took her complaint to the company’s human services department. A few days later, after human services had apparently spoken to Alonzo, he began leaving notes on her car, and one day showed up at her son’s little league game, making a point to sit near Julia and make suggestive comments to her. Julia then became scared that Alonzo might do something to harm her or her children, so she made a police report.
Julia provided a copy of the police report, as well as copies of all of the emails and messages she had saved, as well as her log of events, to her employer. Julia was pleased to learn the next morning that Alonzo had been fired for creating a hostile work environment.
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) is a federal agency tasked with enforcing civil rights laws as they apply to employment, including workplace discrimination and hostility. The EEOC investigates complaints made by employees who feel they have been discriminated against based on their race, color, national origin, age, sex, religion, or disability.
The EEOC also investigates reports of retaliation against an employee who has filed a complaint of discrimination or hostile work environment. The EEOC often acts as mediator in settling discrimination complaints, and the agency has the authority to file civil lawsuits against employers on behalf of employee victims.
Hostile Work Environment Laws
The federal laws enforced by the EEOC are related to discrimination in the workplace, which often applies where a person feels he is working in a hostile or uncomfortable environment. Other hostile work environment laws are left to the individual states, both to legislate, and to enforce. State hostile work environment laws also protect employees facing retaliation for having reported a violation of anti-discrimination laws.
Laws governing harassment and discrimination in the workplace are civil in nature, meaning that a victim has the right to file a civil lawsuit if any of these laws have been violated. To be successful in a civil lawsuit for harassment, discrimination, or creating a hostile work environment, the victim must generally prove certain elements:
- The hostile acts discriminated against the victim, based on age, sex, religion, race, disability, or other protected trait.
- The acts were severe enough to disrupt the employee’s work or productivity
- The acts were continuous, occurring regularly or frequently over a period of time, and not limited to one or two occurrences or remarks.
- The employer, which was advised of the situation, failed to intervene or take appropriate action to stop the behavior or acts.
- The victim employee reasonably believed that tolerating the abusive behavior was necessary for continued employment.
Mary is hired on with a big accounting firm, after seeking employment with the firm for over a year. After signing her employment contract, Mary began being subjected to derogatory remarks made by Brad, another accountant. Brads remarks began as sexually suggestive remarks then, when Mary ignored him, his comments quickly turned into a constant barrage of Mary’s ability to perform her job because she’s a woman.
Mary asked Brad to just leave her alone, but his offensive behavior continued, and it wasn’t long before Mary began dreading work each morning at a job she had dreamed of for over a year. Mary went to human resources (“HR”) to make a complaint about Brad’s daily behavior, and the HR manager assured Mary she would take care of the problem.
The harassment continued, and after another month, Mary was stressed past her limit. Mary was afraid to complain to HR again because Brad had been with the company for nearly eight years, and she was afraid she would be fired for complaining. Mary has grounds to file a civil lawsuit against both Brad and the company, which did not take adequate action to stop Brad from harassing her.
In many cases, a hostile work environment is created by an employer, supervisor, or business owner. In such cases, the employer is automatically accountable for the harassing actions that result in an adverse employment action, such as termination of employment. Such actions also include failing to hire or promote an individual, or reducing an employees wages or benefits for reasons that are discriminatory, or retaliative in nature.
If a supervisor’s actions create a hostile work environment for any employee, the employer will be held responsible unless it can prove the following:
- The employer promptly made a reasonable attempt to correct the harassing behavior;
- The supervisor’s superior made a reasonable attempt to prevent or correct the harassing behavior, or that the employee failed to take advantage of corrective opportunities provided by the employer.
Employer liability can become an even greater issue if the management team fails to make prompt and reasonable attempts to correct the problem, and a complaint is filed with the EEOC.
Civil Lawsuit for Supervisor-Caused Hostile Work Environment
In 1986, the United States Supreme Court ruled in a case that established the standards for determining when an employer would be held liable for sexual harassment, which is a violation of the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1764.
After being fired from her job for excessive use of sick leave, bank employee Mechelle Vinson was sexually harassed by the Vice President of Meritor Savings Bank, Sidney Taylor, and that he had coerced her into engaging in sexual relations with him while at work.
Vinson filed a civil lawsuit against Taylor and the bank, seeking an injunction against terminating her employment, as well as compensatory and punitive damages. In her civil lawsuit complaint, Vinson claimed the two had engaged in sexual intercourse more than 40 times, and that her superior touched her in public, and that he had raped her on more than one occasion.
Because Vinson felt that acquiescence was necessary to keep her job, she claimed that the sexual harassment created a hostile work environment. She claimed, in her complaint, that the VP’s behavior violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and that she was entitled to damages against both the defendant and the bank itself. The court disagreed, however, and denied Vinson’s claim, ruling that the sexual relationship was voluntary, and had no actual influence on her employment status with the bank. The court also noted that, because the bank had been unaware of the behaviors, it could not be held liable.
Vinson appealed the ruling, claiming that the Vice President’s actions did indeed create a hostile work environment which violated her civil rights. The appellate court reversed the trial court’s decision on the basis that, if Vinson was made to believe that tolerating sexual harassment was a condition of her continued employment, the fact that it was voluntary was made irrelevant.
The bank then appealed the matter to the U.S. Supreme Court, asking the Court to render a decision on whether a hostile work environment was a form of discrimination under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and whether the Act is limited to “tangible economic discrimination” in the workplace.
After careful review, the Court held that their job was to strike out discrimination and unequal treatment of men and women in the workplace. It also pointed out that the EEOC produced guidelines that specified actions considered to be harassment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, even if those actions did not lead to economic injury.
The court determined that plaintiffs can establish that a violation of the Act occurred “by proving that discrimination based on sex has created a hostile or abusive work environment.” Such a burden of proof can be met by proving that:
- The behavior created a hostile work environment
- The behavior was unwelcome
- The behavior was severe, or it was pervasive
- The behavior was based on the plaintiff’s gender
Related Legal Terms and Issues
- Authority – The right or power to make decisions, to give orders, or to control something or someone.
- Civil Law – The body of law dealing with criminal offenses and their punishment.
- Civil Lawsuits – A lawsuit brought about in court when one person claims to have suffered a loss due to the actions of another person.
- Damages – A monetary award in compensation for a financial loss, loss of or damage to personal or real property, or an injury.
- Defendant – A party against whom a lawsuit has been filed in civil court, or who has been accused of, or charged with, a crime or offense.
- Discrimination – The practice of unfairly treating different categories of people, especially on the grounds of ethnicity, national origin, gender, race, religion, and sexual orientation.
- Jurisdiction – The legal authority to hear legal cases and make judgments; the geographical region of authority to enforce justice.
- Plaintiff – A person who brings a legal action against another person or entity, such as in a civil lawsuit, or criminal proceedings.
- Trial – A formal presentation of evidence before a judge and jury for the purpose of determining guilt or innocence in a criminal case, or to make a determination in a civil matter.
- Victim – A person who is injured, killed, or otherwise harmed as a result of a criminal act, accident, or other event.
What constitutes a hostile work environment? Some employees believe that a bad boss, an unpleasant work environment, a rude coworker, failure to qualify for a promotion, or the lack of perks, privileges, benefits, and recognition can create a hostile work environment.
And, yes, admittedly, many of these issues do contribute to an environment that may not be especially friendly or supportive of employees. The environment without employee friendly offerings can be awful. A bad boss contributes particularly to an environment that employees may see as hostile.
Traditionally, bad managers took the brunt of the blame when employees quit their job. (More recent thinking is that a lack of career development and opportunity is a larger contributor.) All of these factors can make an environment seem hostile to an employee’s wants and needs. And, they are.
Requirements for a Hostile Work Environment
But, the reality is that for a workplace to be hostile, certain legal criteria must be met.
A hostile work environment is created by a boss or coworker whose actions, communication or behavior make doing your job impossible. This means that the behavior altered the terms, conditions, and/or reasonable expectations of a comfortable work environment for employees.
Additionally, the behavior, actions or communication must be discriminatory in nature. Discrimination is monitored and guided by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) which was created by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
So, a coworker who talks loudly, snaps her gum, and leans over your desk when she talks with you, is demonstrating inappropriate, rude, obnoxious behavior, but it does not create a hostile work environment. On the other hand, a coworker who tells sexually explicit jokes and sends around images of nude people is guilty of sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment.
A boss who verbally berates you about your age, your religion, your gender, or your race is guilty of creating a hostile work environment. Even if the comments are casual, said with a smile, or played as jokes, this does not excuse the situation.
This is especially true if you asked the individual to stop and the behavior continues. This, by the way, is always the first step in addressing inappropriate behavior at work—ask the inappropriately behaving boss or coworker to stop.
Legal Requirements for a Hostile Environment Illustration by Catherine Song. © The Balance, 2018
The legal requirements for a hostile work environment include these.
- The actions or behavior must discriminate against a protected classification such as age, religion, disability, or race.
- The behavior or communication must be pervasive, lasting over time, and not limited to an off-color remark or two that a coworker found annoying. These incidents should be reported to Human Resources for needed intervention.
- The problem becomes significant and pervasive if it is all around a worker, continues over time,
- and is not investigated and addressed effectively enough by the organization to make the behavior stop.
- The hostile behavior, actions, or communication must be severe. Not only is it pervasive over time, but the hostility must seriously disrupt the employee’s work. The second form of severity occurs if the hostile work environment interferes with an employee’s career progress. For example, the employee failed to receive a promotion or a job rotation as a result of the hostile behavior.
- It is reasonable to assume that the employer knew about the actions or behavior and did not sufficiently intervene. Consequently, the employer can be liable for the creation of a hostile work environment.
Dealing With a Hostile Work Environment
The first step an employee needs to take if he or she is experiencing a hostile work environment is to ask the offending employee to stop their behavior or communication. If an employee finds this difficult to do on his or her own, they should solicit help from a manager or Human Resources.
When inappropriate behavior is coming from another employee, they are your best in-house resources. They also serve as your witness to the fact that you asked the offending employee to stop the behavior.
You want to put the offending employee on notice that their behavior is offensive, discriminatory, inappropriate, and that you won’t tolerate the behavior. (In the majority of cases, the employee will stop the behavior. They may not have realized the degree to which you found the actions offensive.)
These resources will help you address a hostile work environment before the hostility escalates. You can pick between dealing with difficult people, dealing with a bully, holding a difficult conversation, and practicing conflict resolution skills.
They will all help you increase your skill in dealing with the coworker creating your hostile work environment. These skills and ideas may be all that you need since many bullies are spineless when confronted.
Especially in instances where you have reported the behavior of a manager or supervisor to the appropriate manager or HR staff member, the behavior must stop. Additionally, the reported individual may not retaliate against you as a payback for your reporting of his or her improper behavior.
An employee who experiences a hostile work environment, and has attempted to make the behavior stop without success, though, should go to his or her manager, employer, or Human Resources staff. The first step in getting help is to ask for help. Your employer must have the opportunity to investigate the complaint and eliminate the behavior.
A later hostile workplace lawsuit you institute will flounder if the employer was unaware of the situation and had not been given the opportunity to address the behavior and hostile environment. This is in your hands because, in most workplaces, hostile, offensive behavior is noticed and addressed when it is obvious or seen by many employees.
Employees rarely need to address the behavior on their own. When the behavior is not widely viewed or if it happens only in secret without witnesses, you must bring the hostile behavior to your employer’s attention.
Plus, you may find yourself surprised at how vigilantly your employer acts to prevent current and future incidents that may contribute to a hostile work environment. Many, many employers regard harassment and the creation of a hostile work environment as actions that are deserving of employment termination following a confirming investigation. Give your employer a chance to do what’s right.
Disclaimer: Please note that the information provided, while authoritative, is not guaranteed for accuracy and legality. The site is read by a world-wide audience and employment laws and regulations vary from state to state and country to country. Please seek legal assistance, or assistance from State, Federal, or International governmental resources, to make certain your legal interpretation and decisions are correct for your location. This information is for guidance, ideas, and assistance.
Religious discrimination occurs when a job applicant or employee is treated unfavorably because of their religious beliefs. In Colorado, religious discrimination is an illegal employment practice. Employees and job applicants are protected regardless of whether their religion is a traditional, organized religion such as Christian, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, or Judaism. The primary requirement is that the religious belief is sincerely held.
Discrimination is prohibited even when the person being discriminated against is the spouse of an individual with a particular religion or when the employer perceives an individual as holding a particular religious belief because of a stereotype or mistake.
What is a Hostile Work Environment?
There are two primary types of employment discrimination: quid pro quo and harassment. A hostile work environment claim is a type of discrimination claim that is based on harassment in the workplace. When there are harsh or repeated instances of harassment because of an employee’s religion, this behavior can create a hostile work environment.
In order for a hostile work environment claim to be successful, there does not need to be a tangible employment action or economic injury, such as being demoted or fired. The mere existence of a hostile work environment is sufficient. In Colorado, hostile work environment claims can be brought under Title VII (42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.) or under Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act (Co. Rev. Stat. § 24-34-402).
Discriminatory behavior that can create a hostile work environment can include, but is not limited to:
- Telling derogatory jokes about a religion;
- Using religious slurs or name calling;
- Bringing objects or pictures that are offensive to a religion into the workplace;
- Ridicule or mockery of a religious belief;
- Articles about religion in an employee newsletter;
- Requiring prayer in the workplace; and
- Proselytizing, or attempting to convert someone to a different religion.
Just as the person being harassed does not personally have to hold the religious belief in order to be the victim of harassment, the harasser does not have to be the employer in order for a hostile in order for a hostile workplace to exist. Harassing behavior by co-workers or a client or customer can create a hostile workplace.
In order for behavior to amount to prohibited harassment on the basis of religion, it must be so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or results in an adverse employment decision. Often, behavior will fall within a grey area where a religious belief is being expressed but the expression does not necessarily constitute harassment. For example, saying “God bless you” in response to a sneeze is not severe enough to be harassment, even though it may express an underlying religious belief.
Once an employer learns that religious harassment is occurring in the workplace, the employer must exercise reasonable care to prevent and correct the harassment. If, on the other hand, the harassment is ignored, the employer will likely be liable.
Contact a Colorado Hostile Work Environment Attorney
No employee should have to experience harassment at work because of their religion. If you are a victim of religious discrimination, the lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP may be able to help you bring a workplace discrimination claim or lawsuit.
If you are a victim of religious harassment in the workplace, call HKM Employment Attorneys LLP at 303-991-3075 or contact us online for a private consultation.