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Defining ‘Hostile Work Environment’

April 15, 2021

Many things can make an employee’s work environment unpleasant, including difficult coworkers, poor management, an unreasonable amount of work, or a lack of opportunities for advancement. However, an unpleasant work environment does not necessarily meant that it legally constitutes as a ‘hostile work environment.’ If you are filing a workplace discrimination lawsuit against your employer and assert a claim for hostile work environment, you will need to establish certain criteria.

Requirements to Be Called a Hostile Work Environment

A hostile work environment is generally defined as an environment that makes it impossible for an employee to do their job. Anyone at the workplace can be responsible for causing a hostile work environment (e.g. supervisors, employees, or third parties), and the employer may be held vicariously liable for their actions.

A hostile work environment generally requires the following:

  • Actions in the workplace discriminate against an employee based on their membership in a protected class (e.g. age, race, religion, disability, gender).

  • Discriminatory actions are pervasive, severe, continuous over time, and interfere with employee’s ability to work or employee’s ability to progress in their career.

Incidents that Can Lead to A Hostile Work Environment

Generally, an inappropriate incident on its own (unless severe) is not enough to constitute a hostile work environment. An employee will need to prove that there was a pattern of harassment or offensive conduct and that that inappropriate behavior negatively impacted their work performance or career. Even if the conduct was not directed at the employee, the employee may still have a valid claim, as long as they were negatively affected by the behavior. Common forms of offensive conduct include:

  • Telling offensive jokes

  • Making disparaging remarks

  • Name-calling or use of slurs

  • Displaying or sharing offensive photos or objects

  • Engaging in or threatening physical violence

If someone’s inappropriate behavior at work has prevented you from doing your job, you may have a valid claim against your employer. A Georgia attorney in your area can review your case and help determine next steps.