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What Factors Determine If a Work Environment is “Hostile”?

In the United States, various federal and state laws protect workers from illegal discrimination in the workplace. Many of those laws make it illegal to create a “hostile” work environment. As is often the case, however, with the law, the term “hostile work environment” is something that leaves room for interpretation. If you believe that you are the victim of illegal discrimination that has created a hostile work environment it is in your best interests to consult with an experienced Florida employment law attorney immediately. In the meantime, however, it may be beneficial to get some idea how the law explains and defines “hostile work environment”.

Anti-discrimination laws frequently cover two broad areas of conduct on the part of an employer and/or employees. The first relates to things such as the hiring, firing, and promotion of employees or applicants. The second focuses on the actual work environment itself and conduct that occurs in the work environment.

By way of illustration we can focus on the federal prohibition against discrimination based on race and/or color. Both federal and state law make it illegal to treat an employee or job applicant unfavorably based on the individual’s race/color or because of personal characteristics associated with race/color. This includes, but is not limited to, things such as:

  • Not hiring the individual
  • Failing to promote the person
  • Terminating his/her employment
  • Paying the individual less

It is often easier to see discrimination at work when manifested in the hiring/firing/promotion aspect of employment.

Discrimination based on race/color can also cause a “hostile work environment”. Federal law defines says a “hostile work environment” occurs when the discriminatory conduct is “so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision.” This type of discrimination is much more difficult to pinpoint; however, consider the following examples:

  1. A co-worker made a “joke” last week about how you don’t need sunscreen like the rest of the employees because you are already so black.
  2. Your co-workers make comments on a daily basis about how dark you are, insinuating that being light skinned is preferable.

In the first example, a single comment was made. While it may have been offensive, a single comment alone will not likely rise to the level of “hostile”. In the second example, the conduct is ongoing, clearly relates to your color, and likely makes you feel targeted and uncomfortably. Therefore, the second example might be considered a hostile work environment.

If you have additional questions or concerns about what constitutes a “hostile work environment”, or about employment law in general, contact the experienced Florida employment law attorneys at Celler Legal, P.A. by calling 954-716-8601 to schedule your appointment.