By Dietrich E -
Every day thousands of people show up for a job they hate. Is it because the work is knuckle-scrapingly hard? No. Is it because the job is mind numbingly boring? No. It is because every day someone at that place of work makes life miserable for that employee. It makes suffering through until days’ end almost unbearable. It rears its ugly head as discrimination, be it sexual, racial, ageism or religious. It’s a boss who sexually harasses an employee or someone who chronically tells lewd, unwelcome jokes in the workplace. It’s a fellow employee in the next cubicle who gossips, bullies, sabotages or belittles the accomplishments of his neighbor and the boss who allows such behavior.
What these people are experiencing is a Hostile Work Environment and the U.S. Government passed laws like Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Age Discrimination in Employment Act of1967, and The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 to prevent such things.
In America, we have the inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness. We have the right to work a job without being made to suffer to do it. While women have long found themselves the focus of unwanted or unwelcome attention such as this in the workplace, they are not alone suffering this kind of humiliation in Hostile Work Environments. But with the sexual revolution of the 60′s and 70′s, as more women found their way into the workplace, they were the first to bring the problem of Sexual Harassment and Hostile Work Environment to the attention of the courts. With the awareness in the last two decades of the ramifications of bullying and incidents that inspired phrases like ‘going postal’, it would seem that this kind of situation should be lessening in the workplace. But every day, it goes on. Every day, employees reach their limits. They are desperate to keep their jobs in a worsening economy and are forced to swallow their anger.
So what constitutes a Hostile Work Environment? The phrase covers a rather narrow term of definition, legally. Yet it defines a workplace situation where an employee cannot reasonably do his or her job because of rude or hostile or sexual behavior in the workplace specifically directed at a particular protected class of employee. Harassment can come either from a boss, supervisor or from another employee, or by the management’s failure to deal with such situations.
In other words, a boss who is generally hostile and rude to everyone may not constitute a Hostile Work Environment, but a boss who targets a specific person who belongs to one of these protected classes may, in fact, constitute a Hostile Work Environment. A boss who uses rudeness or hostility, or discrimination to force an employee to quit his or her job so that the company is not forced to pay unemployment insurance to that employee may constitute a Hostile Work Environment. A Hostile Work Environment Attorney can bring a lawsuit against management that either refuses or fails to take action against such behavior after the harassed employee goes to management for help. However, the victim’s behavior will also be taken into consideration in a lawsuit. If a victim responds with hostility of his or her own, that can nullify any lawsuit. And the harassment must be ongoing and severe.
Hostile Work Environment Attorneys say that the perpetrators in Hostile Work Environment cases count on intimidation and the desperation of these employees to keep their jobs to forestall any legal action. Some, unbelievably, cannot even conceive of this as harassment. Some 35% of all women surveyed in a 2007 study claim they have been subjected to harassment of some kind in the workplace. It’s estimated that only 5%-15% of all Hostile Work Environment cases are ever even reported. This might be partly due to the fact that management is already aware of the problems in the ranks and have chosen not to act. Whistle blowers are often the target of management’s wrath and the ostracization of that employee by others. So it seems like a vicious Catch 22.
Kenneth Wygand, a Los Angeles accountant, found himself the unwelcome target of Harassment by a boss who learned of Kenneth’s homosexuality. Kenneth became the brunt of office jokes and was intentionally left out of meetings. When he complained to a partner in the firm, he was assured that something would be done, but nothing was, and afterward, was characterized as ‘difficult.’ His supervisor continued to harangue Kenneth, pushing him to quit, rallying the other employees to ostracize him as well for fear of losing their own jobs. He was given terrible reviews and missed out on salary increases. But the boss simply defended his actions, saying that Kenneth was not performing up to standards. Out of desperation, Kenneth consulted a Hostile Work Environment Attorney and sued his former employer, and won a sizable case.
The fear of losing ones job is a powerful force. So many remain silent in the face of this destructive and debilitating behavior. But if the situation warrants, an experienced Hostile Work Environment Attorney can be your advocate where there is none in the workplace. If you feel you are a victim of a Hostile Work Environment, contact a Hostile Work Environment Attorney who specializes in workplace harassment issues who will help you get the compensation you deserve.
Dietrich Elliot is a freelance writer, teacher and retired Los Angeles Personal Injury Attorney. He writes about Personal Injury Law as it pertains to Los Angeles, the city in which he lives. You can contact Mr. Elliot by emailing him at: DietrichElliot@aol.com.