What is a Hostile Work Environment?
It is important to know whether or not an employee is working in a “hostile work environment” because many legal disputes with employers will be greatly affected by whether or not such an environment exists.
Generally, a “hostile work environment” is any work environment where an employee is unable to perform his or her job effectively because he or she is being unreasonably discriminated against. Typical examples of when a work environment can be found to be “hostile” is when an employee is being discriminated against based on his or her race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation and/or religion.
A work environment can also be found to be “hostile” if an employee is unable to perform his or her job responsibilities because he or she is being harassed or intimated by a co-worker, a supervisor or any other employee who has work related power over him or her.
If an employee can prove that he or she is being harassed, intimidated or being discriminated against in his or her work environment, the legal consequences can be quite severe for the harasser/discriminator, and for the employer under certain circumstances.
Discrimination, intimidation and harassment over time will usually adversely affect an employee’s job performance as well as his or her psychological, emotional and in some cases, physical well being.
Once a complaint is filed, an employer should conduct a thorough investigation and collect all relevant evidence in order to determine whether or not the complaint or complaints have a basis in fact. It is best to have an independent attorney oversee the investigation, but in small business settings, often a supervisor or another employee who does not have direct or indirect power or control over the complaining employee’s job will do the investigation (assuming there are no complaints against them)
Such investigation by the employer should be completely unbiased.
During the investigation, it is a good practice to move the accused wrongdoer or harasser to another position in the company, away from the complaining employee while the investigation is going on.
Generally it is a mistake to move the complaining party because usually the complaining employee has a lower level job than the accused party. Moving the complaining employee may cause him or her to lose seniority, benefits, etc. which might then be added to the list of damages claimed against the employer.
The above information is designed to be used in conjunction with an attorney. It should not be used or relied upon without consulting competent legal counsel.