Many people are under the impression that in order to be sexually harassed, a boss or coworker must have physically touched you or attempted to do so. However, sexual harassment does not always involve touching. This could constitute working in a hostile work environment.
If your employer or coworkers create a work environment that is so offensive that it affects your ability to work, you may be working in what is referred to as a hostile work environment, which is prohibited under both state and federal laws.
What is a Hostile Work Environment as it Pertains to Sexual Harassment?
A Hostile work environment may not be what you think it is. People say and do unpleasant things to each other at work all the time. But, that doesn’t mean that the law was broken.
Here’s what a hostile work environment IS NOT––an unpleasant boss or coworker who treats you with disrespect or disregard for your feelings or your needs. This can be summed up as simply a personality conflict.
Here’s what a hostile work environment IS––a boss or coworker who treats you unfairly or is extremely unpleasant to you because of your gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or sexual expression. This is against the law.
Examples of things that can create a hostile work environment include:
- Offensive kidding and joking
- Unwelcome sexual or romantic propositions
- Leering or staring
- Facial gestures
- Lewd noises
- Displaying pornographic material in the workplace
- Sexual explicit emails being sent by your supervisor or coworkers
- Other pervasive, ongoing, offensive conduct that makes the workplace hostile or intolerable.
What Can You Do About A Hostile Work Environment?
If any of the examples above apply to your situation at work, and you are comfortable doing so, you should confront the offender(s). Explain to them firmly but politely that their behavior is not welcome and ask them to stop.
If that doesn’t stop the behavior, report it to your supervisor. You can always report the behavior to your supervisor without first confronting the offender. Just don’t ignore the problem.
If your supervisor does not respond to your complaint or does not succeed in getting the hostile behavior to stop, you may have grounds for what is referred to as a hostile environment claim against your employer.
For more information on what constitutes a hostile work environment and what your legal rights and options are, consult with a qualified employment law attorney who has experience with sexual harassment claims. Your right to work in an environment free from sexual harassment is important and needs to be protected.