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When does ‘inappropriate’ become ‘illegal’ in the workplace?

Category: Hostile Work Environment

There are many people who don’t exactly look forward to going to work. They may not like their job, their boss, the stress, or the long work days that they have to deal with. But in general, people learn to cope with their circumstances and often find some satisfaction or enjoyment out of their job.

However, there are also people who absolutely dread going to work. They feel uncomfortable, unsafe, threatened or unfairly attacked by supervisors or co-workers. They are subjected to derogatory comments, offensive behaviors; some people are even denied work perks or promotions. People in this situation may not just be dealing with an unpleasant workplace; they may be victims of a hostile work environment.

Determining whether a workplace environment crosses the line between miserable and unlawful can be very difficult, especially for victims who are dealing with this situation every day. People who are targeted for mistreatment or are bystanders to offensive practices in the workplace can certainly feel as if they have grounds to file a legal claim citing hostile work environment.

Unfortunately, not all claims of harassment or hostile work environment are legally actionable. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, there are certain requirements that must be met for a person to have a legal claim.

The EEOC states that for harassment to be considered unlawful, the conduct must interfere, jeopardize or otherwise negatively affect a person’s employment or it must be serious enough that a reasonable person would consider the workplace to be hostile, intimidating or abusive.

This means that the occasional use of offensive language, periodic verbal outbursts or other minor or isolated incidences may not be enough to warrant a legal claim.

However, every worker in California should remember that they have rights that must be protected in the workplace. Rather than ignore potentially unlawful situations or try to pretend it is not a big deal, employees who have concerns about whether they are dealing with a hostile work environment should consider speaking with an attorney. With legal support, a person can determine if they have an actionable claim and take the appropriate steps to file a harassment lawsuit.

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