Every workplace has its share of teasing and jokes, but there comes a time when the line is crossed. It can be difficult to determine when jokes are acceptable and when a hostile work environment has been created. If you have questions or concerns, it is generally a good idea to seek experienced legal assistance. An experienced hostile work environment lawyer can help you understand your rights and work to get you the compensation you deserve.
Hostile Work Environment Definition
In general, federal law defines a hostile work environment as an environment in which doing your job is rendered impossible because of harassment. Whether this is due to discrimination, to a fundamental change in the mechanisms used to do your job, or both, this type of behavior must be present, rather than mere joking or teasing (however unpleasant the teasing may be). A reasonable employee must conclude that the environment is hostile to certain types of people for it to possibly be declared as hostile.
More specifically, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines a hostile work environment as one where enduring harassment is a (spoken or unspoken) condition of continued employment. This may not be made explicit. It may only become apparent upon retaliation or other adverse employment decisions after speaking up about harassment or other alleged mistreatment. In other words, retaliation can be evidence of a hostile work environment as well, under the EEOC definition, even though it may only become apparent after the fact.
Is My Work Environment Hostile?
If your work environment is discriminatory, if the behavior is significant and pervasive, and if it seriously disrupts you or other employees’ ability to work effectively, you may have a case of a hostile work environment. This may be especially so if you have informed your superiors or human resource department and nothing has been done to stop the behavior.
What Can I Do?
There are multiple ways to deal with the issue. Some require more evidence than others, as well as more effort on the part of the person reporting the problem. A hostile work environment lawyer can help you understand your options and provide recommendations for an effective course of action.
Before the EEOC or the South Carolina Human Affairs Commission (SCHAC) will investigate complaints, all prior options to resolve the issue must have been explored. For example, your employer must be given the chance to address the issue in-house. If that does not yield results, then the EEOC or the Human Affairs Commission may take up the charge. The two agencies do work together, so only one will usually investigate a specific complaint. It is important to understand that if you file with either agency, you will not be allowed to pursue charges in court until the agency investigation has concluded.
Ask An Experienced Attorney
A hostile environment can be frightening, especially when all one wants is to put their head down and do a job. Attorney A. Christopher Potts has experience navigating these types of cases. We are happy to sit down with you and help answer any questions you might have about how to address this issue.
Contact the Charleston law firm of Hitchcock & Potts today to set up an initial consultation.