Posted by Tamara
The term hostile work environment is often misused, causing confusing for Illinois employees.
Some people, especially as depicted in certain TV shows, think a hostile work environment exists any time an employer or coworker behaves badly. That is an incorrect assumption. Some people are obnoxious and ill-mannered, but they aren’t automatically violating federal laws.
The legal definition of a hostile work environment mandates two conditions.
The employee is being subjected to negative behavior in the workplace because of his or her age (40-70), sex, color, national origin, religion, disability, race or pregnancy.
The employer is aware of the negative behavior, but hasn’t taken steps to stop the behavior, or to prevent future occurrences.
Consider two scenarios:
Arnetta works for a boss who micromanages, screams, throws papers and berates workers of every race, sex, religion and age. Arnetta asked her Human Resources professional if her boss’s behavior constitutes a hostile work environment.
The general manager of a hotel constantly calls the Latino employees “dumb Mexicans” and “wetbacks”.
At first, both seem to be hostile work environments, but only one meets the legal definition: the scenario with the general manager and the Latino employees. The EEOC recently won a very similar case. The court found the employer guilty of creating a hostile work environment for the Latino employees.
Arnetta’s situation doesn’t meet the legal definition, because her boss yells at everyone. He certainly is a jerk and probably a bad manager, but his screaming doesn’t target a specific protected group.
Creating a hostile work environment is a form of discrimination, which violates federal laws. These laws are enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
The EEOC recently won a case involving an African American worker at a Pennsylvania bakery. The employee was repeatedly subjected to racial slurs from his coworkers. The worker complained to management, but the slurs continued. The suit determined the employer had created a hostile work environment for that employee.
In each of these EEOC cases, the employer paid over $1 million in damages.
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