The term “hostile work environment” gets used frequently but it is rarely defined. Not every hostile action at work is prohibited by the law. True hostile environment claims must be based on discrimination – that is, being targeted based upon a protected class. Gender, race and religion are a few of the protected classes. For additional examples of protected classes, see Employment Law Definitions. To see if you are in a hostile work environment, consider these questions:
1. What actions have been directed against me? If the actions are significant, and make it more difficult to work, they might support a hostile work environment claim.
2. Why am I being singled out? If you are receiving harsh treatment at work, determine whether it is because of your gender, race or another protected class. If your boss calls you dumb but then they call everyone dumb, this may not be actionable hostile work environment.
3. How can I prove it? Proving discrimination can be difficult. If this treatment is happening to everyone who falls into a certain protected class such as race, it can be easier to prove.
While this article is not a substitute for legal advice, if you feel that you are the victim of discrimination at work, it is best to seek out qualified legal representation to review your case.
Sam Ventola has a wide variety of experience in employment, litigation, legal education, and mediation. He has been an attorney on both sides in business litigation, employment disputes, probate litigation, and personal injury cases. In addition to being an attorney, he has been a mediator, hearing officer, labor relations professor, and lecturer on litigation, employment and First Amendment issues. He has also achieved the rating of AV Preeminent® by Martindale Hubbell.