Your work environment may be unpleasant, contentious or outright awful — but it may not be legally considered a “hostile environment.” A hostile work environment has a specific meaning under the law that has to be met for you to have a claim against your employer.
Hostile work environments are created whenever all of the following are true:
- You are subjected to discriminatory behavior due to gender, race, age, religion, sexual orientation, disability or another category protected by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
- The behavior is chronic or pervasive, not just a “one-off” remark or action.
- The investigative response from the company has been inadequate to address the issue.
- The behavior seriously disrupts your ability to function at work or impedes your career in some way.
That means that having a terrible boss who is just indiscriminately abusive to everyone likely wouldn’t be considered a hostile work environment, but a situation where a terrible boss is abusive only to certain people based on some prejudice could be.
A hostile work environment may be caused by things like:
- Lewd or obscene comments, “jokes,” suggestions or behavior
- The use of racially-offensive slurs, racial stereotyping or other derogatory racial remarks
- Intimidation or negative comments toward someone’s religious beliefs
- Comments or slurs regarding someone’s disability or medical accommodations
If you’re uncertain whether or not you’re being subjected to a legally hostile work environment, the wise thing to do is to consult with an experienced employment law attorney about your situation. The nuances of the law surrounding a hostile work environment mean that each situation has to be judged for itself — and it’s hard to cast an objective eye on a situation when you’re in the middle of it.