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Maryland Hostile Work Environment

Posted by Tamara

According to federal antidiscrimination laws, it is the responsibility of the employer to provide a work environment free from discrimination. That means that if anyone creates a hostile work environment on the job, the employer must put a stop to it.

Unfortunately, Maryland employers often assume that hostile work environment is the same as sexual harassment. This is an incorrect assumption.

Sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome attention focused on an employee due to his or her gender. This attention can come from supervisors, co-workers, vendors and even customers.

A hostile work environment includes more than negative behavior based on sex. It includes any negative behavior in the workplace based on a worker’s color, religion, pregnancy, age (40 to 70), race, disability or nation of origin.

To illustrate, consider the two following examples.

Janet works as a cashier at a restaurant. Her boss promises her a raise if she gives him oral sex. If she refuses, she’ll lose her job. Janet refuses his advances. This is a classic example of sexual harassment. But even if her boss didn’t include the promise of reward or threat of punishment in his advances, he would be guilty of sexual harassment. His unwelcome attentions continued after Janet refused, so his behavior constitutes sexual harassment.

Note that if Janet’s co-worker made unwelcome sexual overtures to her, it would also be sexual harassment. This negative behavior can come from supervisors, colleagues, vendors and even customers.

The second example involves about a dozen female employees at a chain of new car dealerships. The owner and managers referred to these women as “dingbats”. In addition, these women were subjected to derisive comments when they failed to meet their sales quotas. The male sales employees who failed to make their sales totals were not subjected to derisive comments. The federal court ruled that this behavior constituted a hostile work environment for women, and awarded them over $12 million.

Note that there were no sexual advances involved in this case, so the behavior didn’t constitute sexual harassment, although it is a hostile work environment.

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