How Does the EEOC Identify a Hostile Work Environment?

January 5, 2023 | Attorney, Matthew Dolman
How Does the EEOC Identify a Hostile Work Environment?

As an employee, you may have experienced discriminatory, aggressive, or abusive treatment at the hands of a co-worker, subordinate, or boss. All this discrimination in all of its various forms can lead to the creation of what is called a “hostile work environment”. Not only is this kind of discrimination ethically bankrupt but it is also unprofessional and not conducive to a productive workplace. If you believe that your workplace has become hostile to the point that your work is being disrupted, you may be able to file a claim.

Dolman Law Group has handled numerous hostile work environment claims for our clients. We want you to know that you don't have to tolerate discrimination and harassment in the workplace. Our team is available for a free consultation to discuss your legal options. For more information, read on to learn how the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission can identify a hostile work environment.

What Is a Hostile Work Environment?

The term “hostile work environment” may seem self-explanatory. It's true that in a broad sense, a hostile work environment is an employment setting made uncomfortable by the behaviors, attitudes, and policies of employers and coworkers.

Discrimination in the workplace is much more common than most are led to believe. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reports that 84,254 workplace discrimination charges were filed with the federal agency nationwide during the fiscal year of 2017.

However, it is important to note that for a workplace to be classified as a hostile work environment, several sets of criteria must be satisfied if one wished to make a harassment discrimination claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or EEOC. A personal injury lawyer can assist you in navigating this complex area of the law.

What Is the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is charged with enforcing anti-discrimination laws among the country's public and private workplaces. To do this, they investigate discrimination and harassment claims filed with them to determine if a business is guilty. In addition to this, they hold hearings, administer equal employment opportunity laws for employees of the federal government, issue regulations interpreting the law, and litigate discrimination cases, among other things.

It should be noted that the EEOC operates primarily on the federal level. This means that they work to enforce legislation enacted by the federal government rather than state governments. The primary laws that the EEOC works to enforce are:

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
  • The Pregnancy Discrimination Act
  • The Equal Pay Act
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
  • The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)
  • The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA)

Identifying a Hostile Work Environment

It's true that many workers experience instances of hostility or discomfort due to employee or employer behaviors and policies. However, this does not always mean that their work environment falls into the EEOC classification of a hostile work environment.

Annoyances, petty slights, and isolated incidents that are not extreme do not constitute a hostile work environment. These conditions, while somewhat uncomfortable, are not illegal. In order for a place of employment to become a hostile work environment, there needs to be pervasive and continuing behavior and/or policies that impede someone's ability to perform their job because of the level of hostility and discomfort.

Racial Discrimination Can Create a Hostile Work Environment

For example, if someone assumed a Korean-American employee was Chinese simply because they were Asian and asked them if they knew what the best Chinese restaurant in town was, that would not be okay and the Korean employee would probably find it annoying. Ultimately, it wouldn't be illegal if it was an isolated case that was resolved when the coworker was corrected.

On the other hand, if that Korean employee had to constantly remind the coworker that they are not Chinese and the coworker started using racial epithets against the Korean coworker and making insensitive jokes, then the workplace would be more in alignment with what the EEOC classifies as a hostile work environment.

Hostility and Discrimination in the Workplace

Part of what makes determining if someone's place of employment is considered a hostile work environment so difficult is the fact that there is no exact formula. Determining whether or not a work environment is hostile is heavily dependent on subjective opinion and details. The question of whether behavior in the workplace can be considered illegally hostile can be answered by looking at whether it has the following elements:

Discrimination Contributes to Problematic Work Environments

The behavior has to be discriminatory towards a protected group by the EEOC. That means that whatever hostile behavior has to target a protected aspect of an employee in a negative light. For example, inappropriate remarks about a female coworker's inability to do a job because they're a woman target her sex in a negative light and are discriminatory.

The Pervasiveness of Hostile Behavior Supports an Employment Discrimination Claim

Isolated incidents of hostility can be troublesome, but they can often be resolved within the workplace by effective management and policy. To be considered a hostile work environment, there needs to be proof that there is good reason for an employee to expect continued hostility that would disrupt their performance at their job.

Unwelcome Behavior May Constitute a Hostile Work Environment

It is rare but not unheard of for certain individuals to not take offense to certain behaviors that most would consider hostile or discriminatory. Workplaces are home to some very complex relationships that may include some behavior that would be considered hostile by some.

For example, consider a situation where a coworker locked up the wheels of their disabled coworker's wheelchair as a practical joke. This could either be taken in good humor or with offense where the disabled coworker makes clear that such behavior is unwelcome and establishes a precedent.

Sufficient Intensity of Inappropriate Behavior Can Qualify as Hostile

The subjective nature of analyzing hostile behavior can be complex and difficult. Everyone is different in how they handle certain perceived slights but there are some behaviors that are objectively unacceptable in the workplace and considered harassment.

  • Any behavior that causes physical harm or discomfort
  • Racial epithets, slurs, curses, and generally any distasteful language targeting a specific protected group
  • Any behavior that directly results in negative actions on someone's employment
  • Any behavior that actively disrupts someone's performance at work

What Damages Can I Recover in a Hostile Work Environment Lawsuit?

The monetary value of compensatory damages in an employment discrimination lawsuit is limited based on the number of employees a company has. Generally speaking, it ranges from $50,000 to $300,000. These compensatory damages are meant to reimburse victims of a hostile work environment for the expenses they have incurred as a result of inappropriate behavior such as harassment.

Examples of damages in a hostile work environment lawsuit:

  • Medical bills
    • Therapy
    • Medication
  • Job-related losses
  • Emotional losses
    • Mental anguish
    • Inconvenience
    • Loss of enjoyment of life

Unfortunately, discriminatory actions can often have a ripple effect. If you were unfairly denied a promotion based on your sexual orientation, gender identity, race, or other factors that can stunt your career, negatively impact your finances, and harm your self-esteem. These types of claims can be difficult to prove, so we urge you to keep a record of any evidence that supports your harassment claim and contact an employment discrimination attorney as soon as possible.

Why Should I Choose Dolman Law Group to Represent Me in an Employment Discrimination Lawsuit?

The employment discrimination lawyers of Dolman Law Group have over 115 years of combined experience handling complex claims involving powerful plaintiffs. We won't push you to settle for less than you deserve because we understand the importance of a fair, collaborative workplace.

The employment discrimination attorneys of Dolman Law Group have seen firsthand how a hostile work environment can harm your health, finances, and career prospects. In our eyes, that is an injustice that needs to be rectified. Our team of personal injury attorneys has recovered millions of dollars in damages for our injured clients, and we will dedicate our time and effort to maximizing your settlement as well.

We encourage you to read testimonials from former clients for insight into the character of our law firm. Not only can you trust that you will be treated with dignity and respect, but you can also count on our team to relentlessly pursue maximum compensation for your damages.

Contact Dolman Law Group For Help With Your Employment Discrimination Claim Today

If you or a loved one have been discriminated against in the workplace based on your race, ethnicity, disability, gender, age, sexual orientation, or national origin, then do not hesitate to contact Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA about receiving a free consultation on your claim. Our skilled employment discrimination lawyers have the expertise that you will need to secure the compensation you deserve.

We know that a hostile work environment can take a toll on your mental and even physical health, not to mention jeopardize your safety. You should be able to perform your job free from harassment or discrimination. Our personal injury attorneys are willing to go above and beyond to secure you a fair settlement, even if that means escalating your employment discrimination lawsuit to trial.

Inappropriate and harmful behavior in the workplace should not go unanswered. Contact us at Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA's offices to learn more about the benefits of our services. Please call us at 727-451-6900 or contact us through our website.

Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765


Matthew Dolman

Personal Injury Lawyer

This article was written and reviewed by Matthew Dolman. Matt has been a practicing civil trial, personal injury, products liability, and mass tort lawyer since 2004. He has successfully fought for more than 11,000 injured clients and acted as lead counsel in more than 1,000 lawsuits. Always on the cutting edge of personal injury law, Matt is actively engaged in complex legal matters, including Suboxone, AFFF, and Ozempic lawsuits.  Matt is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum for resolving individual cases in excess of $1 million and $2 million, respectively. He has also been selected by his colleagues as a Florida Superlawyer and as a member of Florida’s Legal Elite on multiple occasions. Further, Matt has been quoted in the media numerous times and is a sought-after speaker on a variety of legal issues and topics.

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