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Are you being subjected to a hostile work environment?

No matter where you work here in California, there is probably at least one person you find it difficult to work with. Whether you have personality differences or there is something else that makes it challenging to work with him or her, you may find yourself dreading having to interact with that person. Maybe your boss is lacking in managerial skills, which makes it difficult to get some things done.

These issues may not make your work environment particularly supportive or friendly, but it does not necessarily mean your work environment is hostile. In order to lodge a complaint alleging a hostile work environment, the situation must meet the legal definition.

What's a hostile work environment in the eyes of the law?

The examples above may make going to work unpleasant periodically, but you can still do your job. It isn't until the actions of others in your company make it impossible for you to complete your work duties that it becomes a hostile work environment. However, that isn't the only criteria the law uses to make this determination.

The actions or behaviors of others in your work environment must fall under discrimination as defined in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and monitored by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Being obnoxious, annoying or rude does not necessarily create a hostile work environment. However, if someone tells jokes with sexual overtones or racial slurs, for example, then that may make a work environment hostile.

If your boss makes it clear through actions, behaviors or words that you failed to get a promotion, raise or some other employment benefit based on your gender, race, religion or age, among other things, then that could be considered a hostile work environment.

Single instances versus a pattern of behavior

If someone in your workplace makes one bad joke or inflammatory statement, but stops when you request that he or she do so, that may not fall under a hostile work environment. However, if you ask someone to stop hostile, harassing or discriminatory behavior and he or she fails to do so, it may be another story. If you complain to your superiors about such behavior and your concerns remain unresolved or even investigated, it could certainly create a hostile work environment.

Your employer should have a policy and procedure regarding harassing, retaliatory and discriminatory behaviors or actions. You may want to start with attempting to resolve the issue within the company, if possible. However, if it continues, and the company ignores your complaints, you may need to seek outside assistance. The first step should be talking with a lawyer regarding your rights and gaining a clear understanding of whether  your circumstances meet the legal definition of a hostile work environment.

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