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Hostile Work Environment

A hostile work environment, for legal purposes, is a workplace in which a supervisor(s) and/or coworker(s) behaves in a way that a reasonable person would find abusive, intimidating, and/or extremely stressful. The behavior is so severe that no reasonable employee would continue working for the employer.

A hostile work environment must be based on discrimination or retaliation that is protected under the rule of law, and negatively impacts an employee’s ability to fulfill their job duties.

The term is often misused to describe an unpleasant workplace--a mean boss, inconsiderate co-workers, etc. While it’s true those things may negatively impact your experience at work, they only create a hostile work environment under the law when it’s based on discriminatory or retaliatory behavior that is protected.

Speak with a trusted employment law attorney if you experienced or are experiencing a hostile work environment. To make sure your rights are protected, it is best to seek legal advice from a Miami hostile work environment lawyer before resigning or complaining to the company.

In the meantime, it may be a good idea to familiarize yourself with common legal terms and concepts related to hostile work environments.

What Determines a Hostile Work Environment?

Hostile work environments are highly subjective and case-specific, and rarely does the accused admit wrongdoing. Nevertheless, these common indicators often point towards a hostile work environment:

  • Discrimination
    • Does the employer and/or co-workers’ behavior discriminate on the basis of gender, race, religion, age, orientation, disability, or nation of origin?
  • Employer Complicity
    • Did the employer know about and willingly choose to not address the alleged behavior?
  • Employer Inaction
    • Did the employer fail to investigate, address, or intervene after the initial report of alleged hostile behavior?
  • Pervasive and Long-Lasting Behavior
    • Does the employer and/or co-workers’ behavior last and/or worsen over a period of extended time? One-time occurrences are rarely considered to be “hostile” behavior unless extreme.
  • Compromised Social Norms
    • Would a reasonable member of society also find the work environment hostile and/or abusive?
Is Hostile Behavior Illegal?

Hostile behavior, while unpleasant, is not illegal in and of itself. There are no laws that prevent employers from displaying hostile behavior towards employees, but there are laws that protect employees from certain forms of hostile behavior. For example, employees are protected when the hostile work environment is based on discrimination. Complaining about discrimination, illegal activity, unpaid wages, and requests for FMLA are all protected activity under the law. A hostile work environment lawyer can advise Miami residents on whether a law has likely been violated or not.

What Are Some Examples of Behavior That Creates a Hostile Work Environment?

Some common examples of behavior that creates a hostile work environment include:

  • Sexually & Sexually Suggestive Comments
    • For example, a male employee who regularly makes comments about a female employee’s breasts.
  • Racially Insensitive Jokes
    • For example, a white employee makes a joke about Asian stereotypes in-front of a Chinese employee.
  • Insensitive Comments About Physical Abilities
    • For example, an able-bodied employee tells their disabled employee they’d rather die than be in a wheelchair.
  • Sexually Inappropriate Images
    • For example, an employee shares an explicit photo of themselves to others in the workplace.
  • Slurs and Insensitive Language
    • For example, using the “N” word.
  • Inappropriate Gestures
    • For example, simulating oral sex with your first, mouth, and tongue
  • Sabotage
    • For example, an employee manipulates a colleague’s work, so they are either reprimanded or terminated.
  • Unwanted Touching
    • For example, a male employee insists on hugging female colleagues each morning upon arrival after being told to stop and that it is unwelcomed.
Protecting Yourself Against Wrongful Termination

The following tips help employees protect themselves against employers who create/did create a hostile work environment.

  • Detailed Records
    • Document all discriminatory, harassing, or retaliatory comments made and/or directed about you. Include a list of others present but keep the information private until consulting an attorney. Employment law experts suggest employees keep a personal diary (not on company-owned devices) for these record-keeping purposes.
  • Personal Emails
    • It may be difficult to recover emails from a former employer’s serves. Use a personal email account whenever you communicate with an employer about matters not directly related to your job duties.
  • Observe the Workplace
    • It’s possible an employer may favor some employees over others, but that’s only illegal if it violates anti-discrimination laws. Pay close attention to how the employer treats employees in similar roles.
  • Contact an Employment Law Attorney
    • Labor and Employment laws are complex and, admittedly, not that exciting outside of the profession. Before speaking with HR about the matter, speak with a Miami hostile work environment attorney.
Hostile Environment: The Bottom Line

Employers who create a hostile work environment are in violation of the law, plain and simple. No employer has the right to treat employees negatively on the basis of discrimination or harassment. But every case is different so it's best to consult with an employment attorney.

Alberto Naranjo is a hostile work environment lawyer who can counsel employees with these claims throughout the Miami area and Florida. If you are experiencing or have experienced this type of workplace setting, contact AN Law Firm, P.A. for a risk-free consultation about your wrongful termination claim.

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