Hostile Work Environment

Work Should Not Be a Hostile Place

A variety of laws (including the Civil Rights Act, Texas Labor Code, Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act) protect workers against the establishment of hostile environments in their workplace. A hostile work environment is considered to be one where workplace harassment is so severe or pervasive that it changes the terms and conditions of employment. This harassment often includes derogatory or hateful comments, inappropriate jokes, insults, and other forms of abrasive behavior. Protected personal characteristics such as race or national origin, age, disability status, gender or sexuality, and religion are the most common causes of such harassment. Successful hostile environment claims must show that the hostility in the workplace was caused by one of these characteristics.

What Is "Severe or Pervasive?"

The standard for establishing a hostile work environment only requires that the harassment be severe OR pervasive, not both. Isolated incidents can create a hostile work environment if they are egregious enough. As an example, one instance of unwanted sexual touching or a single racially-charged act such as displaying a noose would likely be sufficient to change the terms and conditions of employment. Conversely, a months-long pattern of pointed comments about an employee's religion would probably also create a hostile environment, even if none of the comments would be sufficient on their own.

Common Causes of Hostility

One of the most common manifestations of a hostile work environment is sexual harassment. Victims of sexual harassment in the workplace often report repeated requests for dates or sexual favors, catcalls and leering, unwelcome touching, and even exposure to pornography. The gender of the harasser and the gender of the victim do not matter: sexual harassment is always illegal under the law. It is also not uncommon for race, religion, disability, or national origin to form the basis of a hostile workplace environment. For example, Mexican workers might be the target of incessant comments about their immigration status and "illegal aliens." A Muslim employee could face daily comments about terrorism and stereotypes about people from the Middle East. Additionally, harassment from a supervisor that leads to an adverse action, such as losing your job, missing out on a promotion, or losing salary, is often enough to create liability under the law. All of these behaviors are illegal under the Civil Rights Act, so if you have been a victim of such discrimination, you should contact one of our Austin workplace harassment lawyers, who will help you make a claim. Sometimes employers retaliate against employees for filing a hostile work environment claim, but doing so is also illegal.

Helpful Steps You Can Take

When harassment in the workplace comes from coworkers or customers, it is necessary to show that your employer knew about (or should have known about) the harassment and failed to take the necessary steps to correct it. Employers often defend themselves against hostile environment claims by arguing that they made a remedy available and the employee failed to take advantage of it. Therefore, it is important to be careful when preparing to bring a claim for a hostile work environment. If possible, we recommend meeting with one of our Austin employment lawyers before taking any action. You should generally take advantage of any grievance procedures officially put in place by your employer, up to and including reporting the issue to HR. You should also be sure to keep records of the steps you took to report the harassment and when you did so, as well as any response you received. Taking these steps will help you to bring the strongest claim possible.

When Can You Bring a Claim?

Under federal law, you have 300 days to file a claim if you have been victimized by a hostile work environment. Under Texas state law, that time period is 180 days or for sexual harassment only, 300 days. These deadlines are strict, so it can be very helpful to contact an attorney as soon as possible. If you have been the victim of harassment in the workplace, or experienced a hostile environment at your job, our Austin workplace harassment lawyers can help you bring your claim. You can get in touch with us by filling out our intake form or calling our office at (512) 271-5527.

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