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How Does the EEOC Identify a Hostile Work Environment?

Investigating Discrimination in the Workplace

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 fiscal year of 2017.

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.

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 behaviors, attitudes, and policies of employers and coworkers.

However, it is important to note that a in order for a workplace to be classified as a hostile work environment, there are several sets of criteria that must be satisfied if one wished to make a harassment discrimination claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or EEOC.

What is the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is charged with enforcing anti discrimination law among the country’s public and private workplaces. To do this, they investigate discrimination and harassment claims filed with them in order 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 impedes someone’s ability to perform their job because of the level of hostility and discomfort.

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 but 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.

The Hostile Behavior is Discriminatory

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, remarks about a female coworker’s inability to do a job because they’re a woman targets her sex in a negative light and is discriminatory.

The Hostile Behavior is Pervasive

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.

The Hostile Behavior is Unwelcome

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, a coworker locking up the wheels of their disabled coworker’s wheelchair as a practical joke could either be taken in good humor or with offense where the disabled coworker makes clear that such behavior is unwelcome and establishing a precedent.

The Hostile Behavior is Sufficiently Intense

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, 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

Seek an Experienced Employment Discrimination Attorney

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

Contact us at Dolman Law Group’s offices. Please call us at 727-451-6900.

Dolman Law Group

800 North Belcher Road

Clearwater, FL 33765

727-451-6900

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