A hostile work environment is created when unwelcome and offensive behavior makes one or more individuals uncomfortable, afraid or feel threatened in their place of employment. To constitute discrimination, the behavior must be directed toward a person’s race, religion, gender, age, national origin, disability or other legally protected characteristic. A person creating a hostile environment may be anyone in the workplace, regardless of title or rank. However, this is also one of the most employee misunderstood claims made to their employers.

The prohibition against a hostile work environment does not require that the workers be relaxed and content. Making unreasonable demands and publicly shaming an employee’s performance is not illegal. An isolated rude comment is usually not sufficient for a hostile environment claim. The conduct must be sufficiently severe or pervasive so as to negatively alter working conditions. This is the legal standard, and proving this can be difficult.

Many types of conduct can create a hostile workplace. Rude comments, criticisms, salty jokes and mockery may suffice, as can perceived inequality in hiring, promotion, work assignments and disciplinary action. Continual acts of aggression such as unwarranted yelling or threatening action against employees can also be deemed hostile. The use of physical force or violence against employees is also prohibited.

Most hostile environment claims are based on one of the following types of discrimination:

  • Race, ethnicity or religion — Some individuals are simply hostile to others because of their skin color, cultural background or religion. A hostile workplace often includes verbal abuse, insults, slander or conduct that reinforces racial or ethnic stereotypes. Also common with race/ethnicity/religious discrimination is a pattern of denying employment or issuing less favorable work assignments to those in marginalized groups.
  • Gender — Discrimination based on gender usually involves vulgar language, insults or unwanted sexual advances. Discrimination in hiring and work assignments is also common. Gender discrimination often occurs when a person is employed in an occupation traditionally dominated by people of the opposite gender.
  • Age — This is usually a subtler basis for discrimination. In many instances, older workers are either not hired or excluded from promotion/advancement. In addition, when companies downsize, older workers may be more likely to be laid off as compared to younger employees.
  • Disability — People with physical or mental disabilities participate in the workforce. Though it is less common than other forms of discrimination, some employees with disabilities suffer insults or verbal abuse based on their medical condition. Another form of discrimination is when co-workers, supervisors or managers refuse a person with a disability reasonable accommodation that allows the worker to successfully perform their job responsibilities.

Garcia & Gurney, A Law Corporation, located in Pleasanton, California practices employment law in and around Alameda and Conta Costa counties. If you believe you are the victim of hostile workplace discrimination, feel free to contact us online or call 925-468-0400 to schedule an initial consultation.