Is Your Workplace Legally a Hostile Work Environment, or Just Hostile?

On Behalf of | Apr 18, 2023 | Employment Law

Minnesota Employment Law Attorneys

There are bad bosses everywhere. Bosses who micromanage, hurl insults, or create unreasonable schedules. At best, they are incompetent and just bad at being bosses. At worst, these abuses can be the symptoms of targeted workplace hostility. And it’s not always bosses. People don’t get along with their coworkers all the time, and sometimes this can devolve into feuds, malicious gossiping, and even harassment.

All of these things can be evidence of a hostile work environment, something that legally violates your rights as an employee. But like all laws, it’s important to define exactly what a hostile work environment is. Not all hostility at work is legally actionable. Which is necessary, or people would sue their coworkers for being annoying. But you have the right to protect yourself from targeted ongoing abuse based on prejudicial bias.

You Can Stop Workplace Abuse

If you or someone you know is being abused or targeted in the workplace, there are steps you can take. And the first one is to determine if the situation is legally actionable. If your employers have already crossed the line in how they are allowed by law to treat employees, then a swift and careful response is more important than ever.

There are other ways to change a company’s behavior, but the law is the best possible force to have on your side. Compare your situation to the following requirements for a legally hostile work environment.

Disrupts Your Work or Career Progress

When judging your workplace situation from a legal perspective, first look at the severity of the abuse. For a strong case, the abuse must somehow disrupt your ability to do your job. In other words, putting up with the hostility — or the results of the hostility — have warped the requirements and description of your role.

Your assignments may have been changed significantly from when you were hired. Particularly if the changes are clearly punishment or prejudicial.

You may be unable to complete your work tasks because of unrealistic expectations, or having to sit through being yelled at or reassigned for hours that are spent away from daily tasks. Or asked to work exhausting hours, even if you are salaried.

But work-disrupting abuse can also relate to your career. If a vindictive boss won’t allow you to be promoted or works to sabotage your efforts to get another job, this can also qualify as getting in the way of your job.

Based on Legal Discrimination

The next requirement is that the abusive treatment be based on a prohibited form of discrimination. For instance, if you are being harassed because you are over 40 and won’t retire, that is legal discrimination according to the EEOC. Likewise, if the abuse is because of your gender, race, religion, sexuality, or family status. But if it’s because you are young, or that your manager just doesn’t like you, then the situation would not apply.

That said, many situations can be seen as truly relating to one of the protected discrimination categories. If it is based on love, relationships, dates, or attraction in any way then the situation could be an aspect of sexual harassment. If you at one time reported them for misbehavior or even a simple error, it could be workplace retaliation.

Your best bet is to talk to an experienced employment lawyer about your situation, and they can give you perspective on which discrimination laws may apply.

Hostility Continues Over Time

The third requirement is that the abuse or hostility must continue over time. Workplaces become stressful and even hostile temporarily all the time. But in most cases, the demands will lessen or the conflict will be resolved internally at a reasonable pace. In order to file a hostile workplace suit, the issues at hand will need to have continued for some time.

This can be shown in abusive behavior that occurs over months, or someone who has habitually driven away people they work with. The company will need to have had enough time to remedy the situation on their own, if they were going to.

You Have Asked Them to Stop

You will also need to have requested for the aggressive or hostile behavior to stop at least once. Most workplace disputes can be resolved with straight-forward communication. If you say without emotion “I don’t like that, please stop.” or “That doesn’t work for me, please don’t do it again”, you have given the situation a chance to be an honest mistake. And sometimes, abuse does stop after a direcr request for change.

However, if you have asked clearly, been heard, and the hostility continues then your case for a hostile work environment is much stronger. Having written or recorded proof is even better. But keeping a journal and including it as a journal entry can be considered evidence if that is your only recording option.

Reported to HR – Who Fails to Follow Up

Finally, your company must have had a chance to step in. Bad bosses happen all the time, but usually not with permission from the company. If HR catches wind of hostility or abuse, they are supposed to step in and come up with a solution. If your business has an HR department or even one person who handles HR duties, make sure to file a report.

Do so in a way that leaves a paper trail. Send emails, use certified mail, or scan documents to prove each step you take. If you’re low on options, just take pictures of each step with your phone.

Then give HR time to come up with a plan. Stay in the loop, if you’re allowed to, and request anonymity or protection from retaliation if necessary. If HR does not address the issue, or ‘investigates’ indefinitely, then the scope of hostility greater.

Contact Villaume & Schiek, P.A. Bloomington, Minnesota

If your workplace situation falls into all or most of these characterizations, then you are very likely in a hostile work environment. Where your bosses are not just being mean or incompetent, but actually breaking the law in their mistreatment of employees.

Whether you are the victim or someone you know is being targeted for workplace hostility, there is something you can do. Talk to an attorney experienced in employment law. Here at Villaume & Schiek, we can help you build a case that could force your business to take responsibility for their targeted abuses. For more information on employee rights or a consultation on your workplace situation, contact us today. We’re ready to help.

Disclaimer: The information you obtain at this site is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individualsituation. We invite you to contact us and welcome your calls, letters and electronic mail. Contacting us does not create an attorney-client relationship. Please do not send any confidential information to us until such time as an attorney-client relationship has been established.