The workplace is where Americans spend close to 10,000 hours of their lives, on average. Needless to say, if your place of employment makes you unhappy, you won’t exactly be able to simply endure the negative way it makes you feel, day in and day out.
But how can you be sure if your Massachusetts workplace is simply an unpleasant place to be, or if it has turned into something that is simply not acceptable anymore? How can you tell if work conditions have gone from slightly unbearable, to downright hostile? Use the following information to ascertain whether or not you work in a hostile work environment, and whether or not you have legal recourse to remedy this.
Are you being harassed?
Harassment is a large umbrella that encompasses a wide range of discriminatory behavior. It boils down to this: if you are being singled out or otherwise targeted due to something completely unrelated to your work performance – such as your race, gender, age, sexual orientation or a disability – then you are being unlawfully harassed.
If you are subjected to conditions, work expectations or other behaviors that are not endured by other employees, then you are most likely the victim of harassment. It is not acceptable for a supervisor to force one employee to clean their office, or get them lunch every day, if this is not a task laid out clearly in a job description.
Harassment can take many forms, from threats of firing for not performing tasks unrelated to your job to being mocked openly in front of your coworkers by a supervisor. If the conduct of a coworker, supervisor or anybody else in the workplace makes you uncomfortable, scared or emotionally affected in a way that it negatively impacts your ability to perform your job, then that is textbook harassment, which is illegal.
Is someone else being harassed?
You can righteously make the claim that you are working in a hostile work environment even if you aren’t the subject of any harassment.
The workplace needs to be a safe, accepting space for all of its workers. If there is somebody else who is consistently victimized, in plain view of other employees, then this can create a hostile work environment for others even if they aren’t directly being harassed. Seeing somebody else be harassed can be equally alarming and traumatizing for the person who is actively being treated poorly.
Perhaps the most egregious condition that causes a hostile work environment is sexual harassment. If you are ever subjected to uncomfortable, unwanted sexual advances by an employee, supervisor or other person in the workplace, this is unacceptable and highly illegal. Sexual harassment can be physical or verbal in nature, and can also take the form of various threats, which may be carried out if sexual favors are not performed.
What can be done?
Instances of harassment, when possible, should first be discussed with the offending person. Calmly tell them that their behavior is causing you undue harm and stress, and ask them to stop the behavior immediately. Keep a written, dated record of any instances of harassment that occur.
If you are too scared or uncomfortable to bring up your concerns to the offender personally, or if you have told them to stop and the behavior has not stopped, bring the issue forward to your human resources representative. From there, any number of actions may be taken. Likely, a workplace investigation will take place, ideally from an independent, outside investigator with no stake in the company.
If this course of action doesn’t cause the behavior to stop, then you may wish to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which is the federal agency that enforces civil rights laws in the workplace. The EEOC can investigate complaints regarding harassment, as well as instances where an employee was unlawfully retaliated against for formally filing a complaint to stop harassing behavior. Continue reading