Hostile Work Environment
The phrase “hostile work environment” is often misunderstood. In the legal sense, hostile work environment refers to a specific form of harassment that is covered under the federal anti-discrimination laws. There is, however, no federal or Georgia law that prohibits general bullying or harassment in the workplace. Instead, hostile work environment claims are brought by employees who are subjected to unwelcome comments or conduct based on sex, race, color, national origin, age (40 and over), religion or disability, which unreasonably interfere with their work performance or create an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.
The key is proving that the harasser targeted the employee’s “protected class” when he or she created the hostile work environment. The most common hostile environment claim is based on sexual harassment.
Some examples of other actions which may result in hostile work environment harassment, but are non-sexual in nature, include:
- Use of racially derogatory words, phrases or epithets;
- Demonstrations of a racial or ethnic nature such as use of gestures, pictures or drawings which would offend a particular racial or ethnic group;
- Comments about an individual’s skin color or other racial/ethnic characteristics;
- Making disparaging remarks about an individual’s gender that are not sexual in nature;
- Negative comments about an employee’s religious beliefs (or lack of religious beliefs);
- Expressing negative stereotypes regarding an employee’s accent, birthplace or ancestry;
- Negative comments regarding an employee’s age when referring to employees 40 and over; or
- Derogatory or intimidating references to an employee’s mental or physical impairment.
The anti-discrimination statutes are not a general civility code. Thus, federal law does not prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not extremely serious. Rather, the conduct must be so objectively offensive as to alter the terms and conditions of the individual’s employment. The terms and conditions of employment are altered only if the harassment culminates in a tangible adverse employment action or is sufficiently severe or pervasive.What to do if You Are Subjected to Harassment
If you feel you are being subjected to unlawful harassment at work, you should:
- Keep a log of all hostile comments and activities that occur in the workplace, including dates, times, persons involved, and names of witnesses;
- Focus on severe and pervasive comments and activities that are both hostile and addressed specifically to a protected group (such as a specific gender, race, religion, the disabled, etc.); and
- If, after reporting it to management, your employer fails to take prompt and effective action to remedy the harassment, contact the Atlanta hostile work environment lawyers at Fidlon Legal for an initial case evaluation.
In Georgia, an individual claiming a hostile work environment must generally file a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within 180 days from the date of the most recent unlawful act to preserve his/her rights.Remedies
Remedies for a hostile work environment may include back pay, front pay, compensatory damages, punitive damages, injunctive relief, attorneys’ fees and costs.
Compensatory damages are allowed for future loss, emotional distress, pain and suffering, inconvenience, mental anguish and loss of enjoyment of life. In certain cases, punitive damages may be awarded to punish employers and deter them from intentionally violating the rights of other employees.
If you have been a victim of a hostile work environment, the Atlanta, Georgia hostile work environment attorneys at Fidlon Legal can help. Please contact us for an initial case evaluation.