While many people are lucky to work in great environments, you may dread going to your job each day. Your team’s morale might be low, especially if your supervisor or colleagues engage in conduct that hinders productivity. Yet, you might dismiss their behavior as vexing, rather than as a potential legal issue. In some cases, though, it may meet the threshold of creating a hostile work environment.
The threshold for a hostile work environment
If you are experiencing harassment on the job, it may qualify as unlawful if any reasonable person would find it creates a hostile work environment. An isolated event of harassment, unless it was serious, might not meet this threshold. Nor would most office grievances or annoyances, unless they prevented you from performing your job. Hostility is usually pervasive and goes hand in hand with employment discrimination, which is illegal under both federal and Rhode Island law.
Your supervisor or colleagues may be creating a hostile work environment if they:
- Mock, ridicule or insult other employees
- Threaten or physically assault other employees
- Touch other employees inappropriately
- Use epithets or slurs when referring to certain groups or employees
- Make offensive jokes about certain groups or employees
- Share offensive videos and images
- Sabotage the work of other employees
Reporting a hostile work environment
Before taking any further steps, you will want to address your supervisor’s or colleagues’ conduct with them. Informing them about why you feel harassed – and telling them to stop – may prove effective, so long as they lack awareness of why their behavior is harassment. Yet, your efforts may be futile if their actions are willful.
If your work environment is particularly destructive, you might fear reporting your supervisor or colleagues’ harassment for fear of retaliation. Yet, retaliation is illegal, and could lead to consequences for your employer. If your supervisor takes any action against you after you report them, your employer becomes liable for their harassment. Your employer will not be liable, though, if it tried to prevent their harassment or if it corrected any harm caused by their actions. And it will not be responsible, either, if you failed to take advantage of its protective measures.
Your employer will also be liable for any harassment perpetrated by your colleagues or by non-employees on the premises. It will shoulder responsibility so long as it should have known – or knew about – the harassment and failed to act.
All employees deserve to work in an environment free from hostility. If you are experiencing harassment on the job, a legal professional can help you understand your options for fighting back against it.