Every person has a right to a safe work environment, regardless of where and what they do for a living. Safety can refer to physical safety and also to non-physical aspects in the work place, such as hostility between people. Today, attorneys who concentrate their practice in employment law are seeing more cases where people claim to work in a hostile environment. Yet some of these claims do not actually qualify as workplace hostility. No employee should ever be forced to endure hostility where they work, so it is important to understand exactly what constitutes workplace hostility and assess the need for help from employment law attorneys based on that understanding.
The Law and Workplace Hostility
Currently, only ten states have laws that strictly prohibit workplace hostility or “bullying.” Still, there are a number of other types of protection that victims and their lawyers can refer to for help. These include the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as well as other anti-discrimination and harassment laws; however, there is no federal law that specifically defines or protects an individual from workplace hostility. Because of this, the definition of workplace hostility is sometimes subject to interpretation, based on the individual circumstance. Not every act brought before attorneys who deal with employment law is considered as actual hostility. Therefore, it is important for a person to be able to discern between what is considered as a hostile work environment and what is not.
Determining Workplace Hostility
Because there are no specific rules as to what actually constitutes hostility in the workplace, certain details must be established, such as the pattern of harassment. This includes unwelcome actions against a victim, whether the behaviors displayed against the victim are prompted by some social or personal status, and whether the unwelcome acts interfere with a victim’s ability to perform their work. These details also pertain to whether or not a victim feels comfortable and safe in their work environment. There must also be a history of an effort on the part of the victim to correct the problem by informing managers or supervisors that the behavior exists and whether the behavior continues.
What Is Considered As Hostility In the Workplace?
Besides an existing pattern of repeated displays of unwanted conduct toward a victim of workplace harassment and reports to management regarding this conduct, the specific conduct displayed also makes a difference. Casual joking and generally harmless banter, although annoying, is not usually seen as hostility; belligerent, rude, and intimidating language is. Unwelcome sexual references, jokes, and contact as well as other intimidating and abusive and repetitive behavior is also considered as contentious when it interferes with an employee’s ability to perform their job. Hostility can include offensive verbal or physical conduct based upon race, gender, disability, and other status-based reasons. Another key factor as to what actually constitutes hostility, versus a one-time incident, is if the behavior is continuous and reporting it to superiors does not correct it.
There is never an excuse for workplace hostility; those who experience this have a right to speak out against it. When concerns of repeated inappropriate conduct that fits the description of hostility go unresolved, employees should discuss their concerns with lawyers who understand employment law, especially if this conduct has resulted in loss of work or some other negative result. Employment law attorneys can advise as to whether circumstances qualify as a hostile work environment and whether any legal action should be taken to remedy the problem.
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