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What Constitutes a Hostile Work Environment Under the Law?

You would probably agree that no workplace is perfect. It seems as though there is always one bad apple in the bunch, especially when there are numerous employees in a company. While that person may be an irritant, gruff or otherwise unpleasant to be around, that does not necessarily make your work environment hostile.

Your manager may not live up to your expectations, you may not have gotten the promotion you wanted and you may wish your benefits were better, but that doesn’t necessarily make your work environment hostile either.

So, What Does the Law Say Constitutes a Hostile Work Environment?

Legally, the behaviors and actions of your superiors and coworkers must make it impossible for you to perform your job duties in order to constitute a hostile work environment. You may be thinking that definition leaves a lot of room for interpretation, and you would be right. However, the following guidelines may help you determine whether your situation fits into what the law requires:

  • The behavior and actions result from discrimination based on a legally protected status.
  • The behavior and actions are pervasive, which means they last over time and are not one-time events.
  • The hostility must be severe and seriously prevent you from doing your job and receiving opportunities others enjoy, such as promotions or other benefits.
  • Your superior or coworker singles you out and your employer fails to investigate your claims.
  • Your employer fails to rectify the situation and make the hostility stop.
  • Your employer must know or should have known what was going on and failed to step in on your behalf.

As you can see, you could have an uphill battle ahead of you proving your superiors or coworkers subjected you to a hostile work environment. It may be even more challenging to prove your employer knew about it and did nothing. For this reason, it is crucial that you begin documenting your situation as soon as possible. Review your employee handbook and take the required steps in order to create a paper trail within the company.

If your employer fails to rectify the situation to your satisfaction, it may be possible to take your claim outside the company. You do not have to put up with hostility, discrimination, harassment or retaliation in the workplace. Moreover, you do not have to suffer in silence. If you have questions or concerns regarding your current circumstances, you would be wise to consult with a New Jersey employment law attorney.

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