There is a fair amount of good-natured teasing or jokes in many workplaces. However, when teasing, jokes, or other behavior crosses a line, it can be serious enough to create what employment law calls a hostile work environment. Hostile work environment claims are made when the teasing targets a certain protected class characteristic, which can be difficult to determine for the average person. Read on to learn how you can determine if your work environment is hostile.
What Is “Hostile”?
A hostile work environment is defined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) as a work environment would be “intimidating, hostile or offensive” to a reasonable person. The “reasonable person” specification is important—every person will have their own perception of what is “intimidating” or “offensive,” but a “reasonable person” is an objective standard that a fact finder can use to set a precedent. Either way, offensive contact must rise beyond mere petty rudeness or annoyances.
In addition, in order to qualify as a hostile work environment, your alleged harassers must be targeting you based on a protected characteristic (that is, protected by antidiscrimination laws like Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or the Americans With Disabilities Act). If, for example, you are teased or mistreated based on your weight, you would not be able to bring suit for harassment under federal law—the treatment may be cruel, but weight or body type is not covered under federal antidiscrimination law, so it cannot legally be a hostile work environment.
Do Not Fall Prey To Misconceptions
There are numerous misconceptions that can sometimes stop employees from filing suit under the South Carolina Human Affairs Law or its federal equivalent, but it is important to have your facts straight. For example, many operate under the assumption that the person or people harassing them must be their supervisor or otherwise in a position above them—this is in fact not the case. Under the relevant law, the harasser or harassers can be anyone in the company, at any level.
It is also important to realize that no economic injury has to happen for a hostile work environment claim to succeed. It is a common misconception that some kind of adverse employment action has to occur before a hostile work environment claim has any chance at success. In reality, this is not true—anyone can file a hostile work environment claim, not only the victim of teasing or mistreatment. For example, if you saw a friend or close colleague being mistreated, you might be able to file a claim due to viewing this “intimidating” or “hostile” conduct.
Call An Employment Discrimination Lawyer Today
We hope you now have the tools to assess if your work environment is hostile. You should not have to put up with a manifestly hostile work environment—no employee deserves such treatment. If you believe that your work environment rises to this level, it is a good idea to contact a South Carolina employment discrimination lawyer today. Attorney A. Christopher Potts has years of experience with these types of cases, and can sit down with you to try and answer your questions about yours. Contact the firm of Hitchcock & Potts today.