Have you been subjected to workplace harassment or discrimination? Are you finding it impossible to successfully complete your work because of the actions, conduct, or behavior of others? If so, you may be the victim of a hostile work environment. Under state and federal law, every employee has the right to work in environment free from hostility, harassment, and discrimination. If you feel your employment rights are being violated contact an attorney as soon as possible. Having an experienced employment attorney on your side is fundamental to your case and ability to hold the responsible party accountable. Greg Hall is an experienced employment law attorney in the Denver area and is dedicated to seeking justice for his clients. Contact Greg Hall today to discuss your case and set up a consultation.
What is a Hostile Work Environment?
A hostile work environment involves severe and pervasive conduct that interrupts or interferes with an employee’s ability to successfully perform his or her job. The term used by the courts is that the harassment must alter the terms and conditions of employment. An employer has an obligation to protect and maintain a work environment that is hostility-free and in which an employee can be fully productive. If a work environment becomes intimidating, hostile or offensive an employee may have cause to bring legal action against an employer. However, not all workplace disturbances are severe enough to bring legal action; petty slights, annoyances, and isolated incidents in most cases are not determined to be cause for a for a hostile work environment lawsuit. A hostile work environment claim must establish that the harassment was severe and/or pervasive.
Discrimination or Harassment
Federal and state law protects individuals from discrimination or harassment based on race, color, sex, national origin, , religion, age, lawful conduct outside of work, pregnancy, mental or physical illness, military status, disability, marital status, sexual orientation and/or transgender status. A boss or co-worker who belittles, berates, or inappropriately jokes about someone based on the above-protected classifications may be guilty of creating a hostile work environment. Harassment or discrimination can be in the form of hostile physical conduct, indecent gestures or images, and/or crude language, or other adverse employment actions, such as a demotion or denial of leave.
Sexual harassment involves unwanted or unwelcome sexual advances, sexual favor requests, and physical or verbal actions that are sexual in nature. There are two types of sexual harassment categories:
- Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment: The employee’s job depended on whether he or she accepted or rejected sexual advances from the employer or superior. A claim may be filed regardless of whether the advances were accepted or rejected.
- Hostile Work Environment Sexual Harassment: An employee was subjected to sexual advances which made doing his or her job impossible.
Indirect harassment involves a third party being harmed by the harassment of another person. This could include witnessing, overhearing, or taking offense to lewd actions, communications, conversations, or behaviors. Another form of indirect harassment could include a co-worker receiving a promotion or other preferential treatment over the third party as a result of submitting to a superior’s advances.
Workplace retaliation happens when a superior or a coworker takes revenge on an individual through harassment, like sabotaging an individual’s work. This often occurs as the result of the aggressor being angry that a complaint was filed against him or her for discrimination or harassment.
Legal Requirements of a Hostile Work Environment Lawsuit
The matter of what constitutes a hostile work environment can be very complex and subjective. In order to have just cause to file a lawsuit, the discrimination or harassment incident(s) must be based on a protected category and be pervasive and/or severe. Harassment must be unwelcomed conduct.
Protected Category: In order for an incident to be considered illegal, the inappropriate conduct must be based on or aimed at a protected characteristic. Protected categories in Colorado include race, color, sex, national origin, ancestry, religion, age, lawful conduct outside of work, pregnancy, mental or physical illness, military status, disability, marital status, sexual orientation and/or transgender status.
Pervasive or Severe: In order for the incident to constitute a hostile work environment it must be so severe or pervasive that alters the terms and conditions of employment by affecting an employee’s ability to successfully do his or her job. A pattern of harassment or discrimination typically needs to be shown in order to meet this requirement. However, in some instances, a single act can be so severe that it alone can establish cause for a lawsuit.
Unwelcome: The conduct must be considered unwelcome, meaning that it was not invited or willingly participated in. Unwelcome conduct or behavior could include verbal, visual, or physical and can come from any number of sources including supervisors, co-workers, agents, and customers.
Other factors that affect a hostile work environment case can include:
- The employee has attempted to make the unwelcome behavior stop.
- The employer was aware of the unwelcome conduct and did not take proper action.
- The victim believed that he or she had to tolerate the behavior to stay employed.
- Conduct interfered with an employee’s career ladder progression.
- Cases of strict liability / quid pro quo harassment.
What should I do if I am the victim of a hostile work environment?
If you feel that you have been the victim of your employer or a coworker creating a hostile work environment report your concerns immediately to your employer or human resources department. Contact an attorney as soon as possible after you have established contact with your employer or HR department. An attorney can help you determine if you have just cause to file a lawsuit and also can help you communicate with your employer about your concerns. In this day and age companies are prepared with strong legal representation, you should be too.
Get the legal advice you need today
Greg Hall is a seasoned employment law attorney with over 20 years of experience in handling discrimination and harassment cases. Greg prides himself on being transparent, swift, and dedicated to getting his clients the justice and relief they are entitled to. Contact Greg Hall today to set up a consultation to discuss your case and ways to rectify the hostile work environment.