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Oklahoma Hostile Work Environment

Posted by Tamara

Nothing seems to confuse both employers and employees in Oklahoma more than the concept of the “hostile work environment.” It often pops up as a catch-all phrase for everything from sexual harassment to cranky bosses.

There are two specific conditions that must be met before behavior can be accused of creating a hostile work environment:

The employee is targeted by bad behavior from others in the work place because of color, race, sex, age (40 to 70), national origin, religion, pregnancy, or disability.

The employer knows about the behavior but does nothing to stop it.

Two cases handled by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the enforcing federal agency, demonstrates what qualifies as an example of a hostile work environment.

At a Pennsylvania bakery, an African-American employee was targeted with racial slurs by other employees. Those slurs included the n-word. Although the employee complained to management, nothing changed.

At a hotel in Lisle, Illinois, an executive chef repeatedly called Hispanic employees “wetbacks” and “dumb Mexicans.” The EEOC found that the chef’s comments were creating a hostile work environment for the Hispanic workers based on race, national ancestry, or both.

The importance of understanding the need for curbing such behavior can be seen in the penalties assessed. In both cases the companies paid out more than $1 million per employee for letting the behavior continue.

An obnoxious boss or employee is not necessarily creating a hostile work environment, however.

As a hypothetical example, Bob, an extreme micro-manager throws both papers and tantrums, screams and yells, and berates workers of both sexes and every age, race and nationality. Bob may be a terrible boss and a genuine jerk, but he is not guilty of creating a hostile work environment under the narrow conditions of the law.

In another hypothetical example, Ted has been making errors at work. A recent purchasing mistake his cost the company $7,300. His boss appears to have singled Ted out for a personal vendetta, making his life difficult by nitpicking and fault-finding. Is Ted’s boss guilty of creating a hostile work environment? The answer is “no.”




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