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Do You Have a Hostile Work Environment?

Do You Have a Hostile Work Environment?

It’s a legal term for harassment. It’s above and beyond a workplace that’s difficult to work in or a boss making you miserable. To be legally actionable, the actions against you (or all those who share something in common) must be frequent and severe enough to change your conditions of employment.

Your employer should treat you with dignity and respect, no matter how well or poorly you do your job. If that’s not the case and you’re dealing with a hostile work environment, call the MJB Law Group today at (949) 266-0880 or fill out our confidential contact form. We’ll discuss the situation and what can be done about it.

What is a Hostile Work Environment?

To have a valid claim for damages due to a hostile work environment, you have the burden of proving:

  • You are a member of a protected class (your age, sex, color, national origin, you’re pregnant, etc.)

  • You are subjected to unwelcome harassment

  • The harassment is based on your protected class

  • The harassment unreasonably interferes with your work performance because it creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment

  • The defendant is liable for the harassment

State and federal courts have developed guidelines for proving these types of lawsuits. They include:

  • Hostile or abusive environmental claims arise when the workplace is “permeated” with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insults that are severe or pervasive enough to alter the conditions of your employment

  • The issue the court must decide is whether the conduct in question conveyed a message that demeans employees based on their protected class

  • The harassment can’t be occasional, isolated, sporadic, or trivial or be in the form of offhand comments or isolated incidents unless they are so severe they alter the conditions of your employment and create an abusive working environment

  • You must feel you’re in a hostile work environment, and a reasonable outsider looking at the situation must feel the same

  • You need not prove your productivity declined due to the harassment. It’s enough to show it’s more difficult to do your job

Each situation is unique. Courts apply rules developed in prior cases to decide the outcome.

Who Could Be Possible Harassers?

State and federal laws cast a wide net. It can be your employer’s owner, your boss, another manager, a co-worker, a contractor, or a customer. If the person doesn’t supervise you, the employer can be held liable if it knew or should have known of the harassing conduct and failed to take immediate and appropriate corrective action. 

The employer can be liable when the harassment by a supervisor (or someone above them) results in an adverse employment action (a significant change in your status). This can include:

  • Firing

  • Failing to promote

  • Reassignment with significantly different responsibilities

  • A decision causing a significant benefit reduction

 When there’s no such action, the employer can be liable for damages unless they can show: 

  • It took reasonable steps to prevent harassment and took prompt action to remedy the harassment after it learned of the misconduct

  • You didn’t use reasonably available opportunities to complain about what was going on and allow the employer to address it 

Other common defenses may be the harassing acts and words didn’t happen as you claim, or they weren’t frequent enough to create a hostile work environment. Another defense may be the actions or words weren’t due to your protected class. The person is nasty to many employees. The employee creates hostile environments for others, and your protected class doesn’t matter.

What Should I Do If I’m in a Hostile Work Environment?

Document what’s happening. Keep a journal of what’s going on, when, and whether there are witnesses, and if so, their identities. Doing this away from work is best, not on a company-owned computer or smartphone. Don’t write notes on paper supplied by your employer and put them in a desk they own. If you do, you risk losing it all if the company suddenly fires you or takes these things away from you.

You should keep any memos, text messages, or emails that are harassing or in some way support your claim. You should also make written complaints to Human Resources about the harassment you are experiencing. Don’t secretly record the harasser, whether they’re with you in person or on the phone, because that’s illegal under state and federal laws. Whatever you record can’t be used in court to support your case. You also open yourself up to being sued and possibly criminally charged.

Tell the harasser to stop, preferably in writing, because it might work. Your employer should have a procedure for reporting harassment. Find out if it has one, and if so, take advantage of it, even if you think it won’t do you any good. Current law encourages victims to make complaints. When you do, your employer can’t deny knowledge of what was going on. Your employer is required to investigate what happened or face consequences in court. It might act on your complaint and make things right.

What Other Legal Issues Might Be Involved?

Whether you complain privately to the harasser or through your employer’s complaint process, there’s a chance you’ll be retaliated against for your actions. Retaliation in the form of further harassment or a negative employment action is illegal. Like harassment, if you’re suffering unlawful retaliation, document what’s going on. Retaliation claims are generally stronger if those actions happen soon after your complaint.

Constructive discharge is a legal term for justified quitting. Depending on the circumstances, if you must quit to protect your mental and physical health, you should do so. But if you do and later file a lawsuit against your ex-employer, you will have the burden to show a reasonable person in the same situation would’ve quit to collect damages for lost income. If you have enough evidence to convince a court you were subject to a hostile work environment, that should also be enough to show you were constructively discharged.

If you quit, you must mitigate your damages. You must look for, and ideally find, other work with similar or better pay and benefits. If this new job doesn’t pay as well and your lawsuit is successful, a part of your compensation would be the difference in pay and benefits between your past and current job. 

If you don’t look for other work, you risk missing out on these damages. You’ll need to be so traumatized you can’t look for work and have medical or psychiatric documentation to back that up.

Contact Our Hostile Work Environment Attorneys At Our Tustin Law Firm

If you’re dealing with a hostile work environment in Orange County or elsewhere in California, you need a hostile work environment lawyer and their law firm in your corner, ready to fight for you. You and your co-workers will benefit when harassment is prevented and addressed if it happens. Contact us for a FREE case evaluation and consultation. Call us today at (949) 266-0880 or fill out our confidential contact form.

About the Author:

MJB Law Group, APC

MJB Law Group, APC is a specialized litigation firm, concentrating on employment and personal injury law. We stand up against big corporations and insurance entities, championing the rights of individuals who've faced injustices. With a proven track record and years of experience, our top personal injury attorneys & employment lawyers are unwavering in their commitment to defend our clients' rights.Recognizing the financial strains that come with personal injury and wrongful termination incidents, we shoulder that weight for you. This is why we work on a contingency fee model — our clients aren’t burdened with upfront costs. In essence, unless we secure a victory for... View full business profile here: MJB Law Group, APC

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