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NYC Employment Lawyer > Blog > Employment Discrimination > What exactly is a hostile work environment?

What exactly is a hostile work environment?


One of the most overused phrases when dealing with problems at work is the ‘hostile work environment.’ While no employee should ever feel unsafe at work, a true ‘hostile work environment’ has a fairly narrow definition, and if one exists at your place of work, it is actionable. However, it is crucial that you be able to determine between a bona fide hostile work environment and mere unpleasant incidents, because the distinction is fine but important. An experienced employment lawyer can be helpful in this situation.

Where To File?

Federal law and the New York City Human Rights Law have differing definitions and standards of proof as to what constitutes a hostile work environment. The burden of proof that one has to establish, if one files a charge alleging a hostile work environment, is lighter in New York City than it is with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which handles federal complaints. In New York City, an employee simply has to show that they were treated less well than other employees due to a protected characteristic.

In New York State and at the federal level, the employee must establish two factors: (1) that a reasonable person would consider the conduct in the workplace “intimidating, hostile or abusive;” and (or, at the EEOC) (2) enduring the hostilities becomes a condition of continuing employment. This means that the odd comment or joke will generally not rise to the level of creating a hostile work environment – but if the same jokes or comments continue to the point where the employee feels too intimidated to do their job – the common legal standard is “severe and pervasive,” then they might have a case.

Negligence vs Strict Liability

Something to keep in mind if you decide to pursue your complaint is that in New York, harassment claims can result in strict liability against your employer (that is, a finding in your favor without having to investigate motive – merely proving that a hostile work environment existed is enough for a finding of strict liability). The law puts weight on the relative position of the harasser and the alleged victim, which means that there may be a different burden of proof required if your harasser was in a position of authority or not.

In general, if the person creating the hostile work environment is your co-worker, your employer will only be found liable if you can show that they were negligent in policing working conditions. If the harasser is a supervisor, however, and they take any kind of demonstrable employment action against you (such as demoting you or forcing you to take a pay cut), an employer can often be held strictly liable. Each case is different, however, which is why consulting an attorney is generally a good idea.

Contact A New York City Employment Discrimination Attorney

Sometimes pinpointing the existence of a hostile work environment can be difficult, especially for women, who are often taught to ignore the evidence of their own eyes. If you are being harassed at work, you do not have to take such treatment lying down. Contacting a New York City employment discrimination attorney at Mansell Law, LLC may be the first step toward getting justice for what you have been through. Call our offices today at 646-921-8900, or contact us via our website, to set up a free consultation.





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