Employers in California and throughout the country are required to take steps to prevent a workplace from turning hostile. Generally speaking, a hostile workplace is one in which a person is unable to focus on their work because a colleague or manager engages in offensive behavior. There are three main elements that must be met for an offensive situation to rise to the level of a hostile working environment.
You must be part of a protected class
Federal law protects certain groups of individuals from discrimination in the workplace. For example, it is illegal for someone to make an employment decision based solely on a person’s age, race or national origin. It may also be illegal to treat someone differently because of that their religious beliefs or because an individual is pregnant.
Conduct must be severe or pervasive
Pervasive conduct is a pattern of behavior that persists over a significant period of time. For example, if you are the target of jokes based on your looks on a daily basis, that could represent pervasive harassment that violates state or federal employment law. Severe conduct can be anything that makes you fear for your safety, and in some cases, a single instance of such conduct could result in a hostile workplace.
Your employer must know about the behavior
Typically, your employer must know about the behavior before you can make a hostile workplace claim. Alternatively, you may be able to make such a claim if a manager, owner or others in positions of power create the conditions that you are subject to. If your company has policies regarding workplace harassment, you should follow them prior to filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
If you feel that you have subject to hostile working conditions, it may be worthwhile to pursue legal action against your employer. In the event that your claim is successful, you may be entitled to a financial award and other relief. Your employer may also be required to amend its policies to avoid future violations.