Hostile Work Environment

February 1, 2021 By Claudia Pollak, Esq.

Hostile Work Environment2021-04-21T22:53:43+00:00

Hostile Work Environment Lawyer White Plains, NY

Hostile Work Environment in New York: Frequently Asked Questions

Legal claims involving a hostile work environment are on the rise in New York. A hostile work environment is created by the discriminatory actions of co-workers, supervisors, managers or in some cases, even customers, clients, or vendors. While many actions taken by co-workers and managers can be characterized as hostile, not all are eligible for protection under the federal and New York state discrimination and retaliation laws. In fact, it is critical that the hostile work environment, which may include bullying, mean bosses, is the result of discrimination based on a protected characteristic, such as race, age, or sex. This requires an analysis of the motives of the harasser, including the language used and any statements made that may indicate discriminatory viewpoints or beliefs. To get help to analyze whether the activities at your job involve a hostile work environment based on discrimination, it makes sense to contact a hostile work environment lawyer to review the situation in detail.

Who is Protected from a Hostile Work Environment in New York?

In New York, many different classifications of workers are protected from a hostile work environment caused by discrimination, including traditional employees, domestic workers, gig workers, contractors, consultants, and interns.

What Constitutes a Hostile Work Environment In New York?

The term “hostile work environment” gets thrown around often in casual conversation. As such, many people find themselves confused as to what a hostile work environment actually is. While many believe that it is the employer’s conduct that is at the root of a hostile work environment claim, it is actually the intention behind the hostile treatment that is determinative of whether or not a worker has a viable discrimination claim based on a hostile work environment.

What Conduct Creates a Hostile Work Environment?

A hostile work environment is created by workplace conduct that is intimidating, hostile, or offensive as a result of discriminatory animus on the part of the offending work colleague or manager, or in some cases, a customer, vendor, or another third party. This means the workplace mistreatment is due to the victim’s membership in a protected class, such as a particular race, gender, or ethnic group, or arises after requesting a reasonable accommodation for a disability.

This treatment can create a culture of fear, discomfort, and severe and ongoing stress and anxiety. Workers who experience a hostile work environment often encounter similar behavior from offending employees. Types of conduct that contributes to a hostile work environment include:

  1. Offensive jokes
  2. Use of racial epithets and slurs
  3. Physical assaults, threats, or intimidation
  4. Ridicule, mockery, insults, or put-downs
  5. Use of offensive objects or pictures (like a noose or pornographic material)
  6. Interfering with, or sabotaging, work performance or a promotion

Is an Abusive Workplace Always Considered a Hostile Work Environment?

No, a workplace can be abusive without rising to the level of a hostile work environment that is actionable under the federal and New York discrimination laws. Most people have encountered workplace bullies or mean, rude or disrespectful bosses and co-workers. However, legally speaking, an unpleasant or even abusive work environment may not be considered a “hostile work environment” under the federal and New York discrimination laws unless it is based upon a protected characteristic held by the harassed worker. This includes their age, race, gender, sexual orientation, pregnancy, national origin, marital status, domestic violence victim status, disability, military status, arrest record, conviction record, or predisposing genetic characteristics.

Who Can Create a Hostile Work Environment?

A hostile work environment can be created in a number of situations where a worker is treated in an unfair, disrespectful, or derogatory fashion because of their membership in a protected class, whether because of their age, race, gender, ethnicity, national origin, religion, disability or other protected characteristic. The harasser can be the victim’s direct supervisor, another company manager, a regular coworker, and, in some circumstances, even a non-employee such as a vendor or a customer. Surprisingly, the victimized worker need not be the person who is actually harassed, but instead, can be anyone reasonably impacted by the offensive conduct.

What Should I Do If I am Experiencing a Hostile Work Environment?

As soon as you suspect that you are working in a hostile environment, it is essential to start gathering evidence. Keep copies of any offensive or retaliatory communications that you receive from your supervisor or colleagues. Memorialize witness accounts or testimony from co-workers who have also experienced or witnessed the abuse by emailing or texting yourself notes of statements that have been made or information you have uncovered. Also be sure to document all specific instances of discrimination and retaliation, including the date, a description of the incident, and who was present. In addition, document any internal complaints that you have made to managers or to human resources about the discrimination or retaliation, including maintaining notes of verbal complaints and copies of written complaints, along with the date, and name and title of the recipient of any complaints. Also document any results of your complaints, such as any company investigations or retaliatory treatment that you faced following your complaints.

If you do not want to formally complain of harassment to your employer, you could try politely asking the offending employee to cease the specific harassing conduct. However, if they do not stop the harassing behavior, you may need to lodge a complaint with your employer or contact an experienced attorney who can advise you. Involving an employment lawyer early on may actually be your best course of action, even if you do not decide to file a complaint or lawsuit, as they can advise you on the evidence you should secure and the dos and don’ts of navigating the situation with your employer.

What Damages are Awarded for a Hostile Work Environment?

In a successful discrimination case alleging a hostile work environment, the plaintiff will receive compensatory damages and may also be eligible for punitive damages. Compensatory damages recover lost financial benefits as a result of a hostile work environment, including lost wages if you are forced to quit your job due to the hostile work environment, and compensation for the emotional harm that has been experienced, including stress, a loss of enjoyment of life, and more serious psychological issues such as anxiety or depression. Under New York state law, courts may also award legal fees and court costs.

How Can Employers Prevent and Address a Hostile Work Environment?

Employers and workers are both elevated when appropriate steps are taken to prevent and promptly correct unlawful harassment when it is uncovered. Prevention by employers is key to eliminating harassment in the workplace, and those who take an offensive approach to discrimination and prevention minimize claims by their workers. Employers should be specifically communicating to their workforce that unwelcome and harassing conduct will not be tolerated and that disciplinary action (including termination) will be taken when discrimination occurs. Here are four strategies that employers should consider adopting to minimize harassment and discrimination in the workplace:

  1. Provide annual anti-harassment training to supervisors and employees.
  2. Establish an effective complaint process, including a safe and confidential system for lodging complaints about discriminatory behavior.
  3. When an employee or contractor complains of discrimination, take immediate action to conduct a fair, thorough and unbiased investigation.
  4. Take appropriate corrective action if any discriminatory or retaliatory conduct is uncovered, including potential termination of the harassing employee.
Hostile Work Environment Lawyer White Plains, New York
westchester county employment lawyer

Claudia Pollak

Claudia Pollak, Esq. is an experienced Westchester and NYC-based employment lawyer representing employees facing discrimination, retaliation or wrongful termination because of their race, disability, pregnancy, sexual orientation, gender, or other protected characteristic. She also advises on executive severance agreements and restrictive covenants. Call her at 914-LAW-9111 (914-529-9111) for a free consultation.

Employment Discrimination

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Gender Discrimination

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Hostile Work Environment

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Some of our most vulnerable populations are experiencing increasingly stressful employment situations. In fact, many workers in America (up to 1 in 5) feel they work in a hostile or abusive work environment.

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Racial Discrimination

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Severance Agreements

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Whether your position is being eliminated in corporate downsizing, or you are getting laid off or fired for another reason, at some point in your life you may find yourself reviewing a severance agreement.

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Pregnancy Discrimination

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The last thing you need when you’re starting a family – or growing one – is financial uncertainty or the stress and anxiety that comes from becoming the target of discriminatory treatment at work because of your pregnancy.

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New York Equal Pay Law

New York Equal Pay Law

New York Labor Law §194, requires that employees of a particular establishment be paid a wage that is equivalent to the wages paid to employees of the opposite sex, or of a different race or sexual orientation, or who are members of any other class of employees.

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