How do I show a hostile work environment exists in my office?
Every workplace may have a modicum of jokes, teasing, or even harassment, with the level of acceptance varying between employers. However, it is in the employer’s best interest to not allow inappropriate behavior to mushroom, because if it rises to the level of a hostile work environment, anyone who can demonstrate that they were harassed may be able to seek compensation from the company. If you believe that this applies in your situation, it is crucial that you are able to show a specific level of hostility and discriminatory behavior in your workplace as you file your charge.
State Law Is Broader
There are both federal and state laws against the existence of hostile work environments, though as a general rule, the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) provides more protections, and is intended to be “liberally construed … without reference to any federal law that may lead to a more restrictive result.” In other words, if filing your charge under federal law would result in a lighter penalty for a liable employer, that will not be a factor in a state judge’s decision in your case.
Federal anti-harassment law restricts any kind of unwelcome conduct based on a protected characteristic, but federal antidiscrimination law only covers a handful of aspects of a person: namely, race/color, sex/gender, pregnancy (pregnancy discrimination is considered an offshoot of sex discrimination), religion, national origin, age, disability, or genetic information. New York state law protects far more characteristics – in addition to the federally protected traits, the NYSHRL covers gender identity/expression, familial or marital status, military status, and one’s status as a domestic violence victim, among others.
No Bright Line Rule
Neither federal nor state law recognizes a specific bright line rule that can define a hostile work environment, but generally, the standard to establish that state of affairs is the existence of unwelcome conduct that is severe or pervasive in nature and based on a protected characteristic. While most of the time, the conduct must be repeated, it is possible for one incident to create a hostile work environment if it was so objectively offensive that the employee feels like they cannot return to work unless the issue is handled.
It is also a good idea for an employee to show that a reasonable person would have felt harassed by the conduct that they have experienced. While it is not strictly necessary to establish that your performance suffered as a result of the harassment, it can be one of the factors the court considers in making their determination. Keep in mind that New York State law does not require the behavior to be as severe as federal law does; under the NYSHRL one must simply establish that they were treated less favorably than other employees, and that it was because of a protected characteristic.
Call A New York Employment Discrimination Attorney
Being harassed, or experiencing a work environment that is patently hostile, because of a protected characteristic is not something that an employee should have to accept in order to work a job. If you believe that you are experiencing a hostile work environment, contacting a NYC employment discrimination attorney at Mansell Law, LLC can be the first step toward seeking redress for what you have been through. Call our offices at 646-921-8900 for a free consultation.