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What is a hostile work environment? P.2

Last time, we briefly considered the potential usefulness of claiming hostile working environment for undermining an employer’s justification of adverse employment action based on alleged poor performance, as well as some of the characteristics of hostile work environment.

A couple additional points about proving hostile work environment are worth making. First of all, it is important for employees or former employees to be able to show that enduring the offensive conduct in question was or is a condition of continued employment. In other words, the employee must be somehow requiring the employee to submit to the offensive conduct to avoid adverse employment action. 

A second important point is that the offensive conduct must, as noted last time, be severe, but severe enough that a reasonable person would consider it offensive or abusive. According to the EEOC, this excludes “petty slights, annoyances, and isolated incidents (unless extremely serious).”

For employees who believe they may have been subjected to such conduct, it is important to document everything, all communications between themselves and the offending party, as well as communications from supervisors, the company’s human resources department, and other involved parties. The more documentation the better, since this ensures that the employee’s testimony of the events is as accurate as possible. Documenting the testimony of other employees who overhear or witness the offense conduct is particularly important.

Those who feel they may have been subjected to a hostile work environment can and should consult with an experienced attorney when they are unable to resolve the matter through the company’s own internal complaint process. Though the EEOC will be involved, having an experienced advocate can help one to navigate the agency’s process, and is critical when for successfully pursuing a case if it is not resolved by the EEOC. 

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