Has your employer taken disciplinary action against you because you reported a hostile work environment?

Federal, state, and New York City laws prohibit employers from allowing a hostile work environment to exist in their place of business. Unfortunately, employers sometimes take disciplinary action against employees who file a claim or report instances of a hostile work environment. Employees should be aware that their employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees for making complaints about discrimination, harassment, or violation of personal rights in the workplace.

You have rights if you are a New York City employee and your employer has taken disciplinary action against you for reporting a hostile work environment. If you’ve lost your job, been refused a promotion, or faced any adverse disciplinary action, you may have a valid legal claim against your employer. Contact the skilled New York City employment attorney at Lipsky Lowe LLP as soon as possible to schedule an initial case evaluation and learn more about your legal options.

What Is a Hostile Work Environment?

The term hostile work environment refers to discriminatory harassment in the workplace. Multiple laws prohibit discrimination based on an employee’s membership in a protected class. Discriminatory harassment can include unwelcome conduct based on a person’s race, religion, color, sex, gender identity, pregnancy, ethnicity, national origin, age, disability, or genetic information. 

Sexual harassment in the workplace is one type of discriminatory behavior that can create a hostile work environment. In addition to sexual harassment, employees can face a hostile work environment based on their age, religion, or membership in another protected class. 

Discriminatory harassment rises to the level of illegality when tolerating the offensive conduct is a condition of continued employment. An unlawful hostile work environment occurs when the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a hostile work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive. Examples of offensive conduct that can create a hostile work environment include: 

  • Offensive jokes
  • Slurs
  • Epithets or name-calling
  • Physical threats or assaults
  • Mockery
  • Intimidation
  • Insults
  • Put-downs
  • Display of offensive pictures or objects
  • Interference with work performance

In a New York hostile work environment case, the employee filing the complaint must prove that the workplace was permeated with discriminatory intimidation that was sufficiently severe to alter the conditions of their work environment. When determining whether a hostile work environment exists, judges will consider multiple factors, including: 

  • The severity of the conduct
  • The frequency of the conduct
  • The effect of the conduct on the employee’s psychological well-being
  • Whether the conduct is physically threatening or humiliating, or merely offensive
  • Whether the conduct reasonably interferes with the employee’s work performance

Examples of Disciplinary Actions Taken Against Employees 

Employees have a legal right to report discriminatory behavior in the workplace, including offensive conduct that creates a hostile work environment. Employers are legally prohibited from taking adverse actions against an employee for reporting a hostile work environment or other unlawful activity. Still, many employers will take such disciplinary action. Disciplinary action against an employee can take many different forms. Some of the most common examples of disciplinary actions by employers include the following:

  • A verbal warning
  • A written warning
  • A poor performance review or evaluation 
  • A performance improvement plan
  • A reduction in rank or pay
  • Termination of employment 

A verbal or written warning can have a negative impact on an employee’s future career. For example, if the employee receives multiple written warnings, his or her employment could be terminated. The employer may claim that they are giving the employee a written warning or poor review based on their poor performance or violation of the rules when in reality they are using written or verbal warnings to punish the employee for reporting a hostile work environment and prevent them from pursuing the claim.

Federal and State Laws Against Retaliation

Employees can receive disciplinary action and other forms of backlash from their employers and managers for making complaints about harassment or discrimination, including hostile work environment claims. Fortunately, multiple laws protect employees from unlawful retaliation in the workplace. Unlawful retaliation includes your employer taking any negative employment action because you have reported a hostile work environment or served as a witness in a hostile work environment claim. The following federal laws prohibit a hostile work environment and retaliation against employees who report a hostile work environment:

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
  • The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967
  • Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990

The New York State Human Rights Law and the New York City Human Rights Law provide additional protection for employees against unlawful retaliation. If you’ve been retaliated against, you can pursue a claim for compensation and restitution against your employer under federal, state, or New York City laws. An experienced employment attorney can help you understand your legal options and develop a strategy for holding your employer accountable.

Protecting Yourself Against Disciplinary Actions

If your employer has disciplined you for reporting a hostile work environment, the steps you take can help or hurt your future claim for compensation. It’s essential that you don’t ignore the problem and hope it goes away. There are time limits for filing a claim. Acting promptly to protect your rights to file a complaint or lawsuit is crucial as is documenting and collecting underlying evidence of the disciplinary action and underlying hostile work environment. If you have been disciplined for reporting your concerns, obtain a copy of the report you filed with the human resources department. 

You should take notes about every disciplinary action your employer has taken, including the date, time, and a detailed description of the event. If there were other witnesses to the hostile work environment or unfair disciplinary action against you, ask them to write down what they saw and sign the document. You should also document how the disciplinary actions and underlying hostile work environment have hurt you, your health, and your work performance. Keep all of your pertinent medical records.

Discuss Your Disciplinary Hostile Work Environment Claim with an NYC Attorney

Has your employer taken disciplinary action against you because you reported a hostile work environment? You may be able to hold them accountable by pursuing a claim for compensation. Contact Lipsky Lowe LLP today to schedule a case evaluation with an experienced NYC employment retaliation attorney.