Physical Evidence to Prove a Hostile Work Environment

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When employers implicitly or explicitly allow harassment in the workplace, an unlawful hostile work environment can arise. When an employee brings a legal claim for a hostile work environment, he or she must provide physical evidence of the harassment. Physical evidence often includes emails, text messages, recorded conversations, photos, and witness statements. 

If you are being harassed at work or you’ve witnessed other employees being harassed, you may have a hostile work environment claim for compensation. The New York employment attorneys at Lipsky Lowe LLP have extensive experience holding New York employers accountable for allowing hostile work environments. When you work with us, you can rest assured we will fight for your right to compensation. 

New York’s Hostile Work Environment Laws

The term hostile work environment refers to unwelcome discriminatory harassment in the workplace. Federal and state laws prohibit harassment in the workplace based on color, race, religion, national origin, and sex. New York law goes even further and prohibits harassment based on race, religion, color, sex (including gender identity, sexual harassment, and pregnancy), national origin, disability, age, genetic information, sexual orientation, marital or partnership status, caregiver status, citizenship status, and status as a victim of domestic violence, stalking, and sex offenses.

Proving that a Hostile Work Environment Occurred

If you’ve been subjected to a hostile work environment, it’s essential to understand what type of physical evidence you’ll need to prove a hostile work environment claim. Proving that a hostile work environment existed required the claimant to prove that the workplace is permeated with offensive comments and discriminatory, harassing actions that negatively alter the employee’s work conditions. 

Specifically, in New York, claimants must prove that a reasonable person would consider the work environment to be intimidating, hostile, or abusive. Employers cannot harass employees in retaliation for objecting to or complaining of unlawful discrimination. In New York, the harasser doesn’t have to be the employee’s supervisor. The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, an employer’s agent, a co-worker, or a non-employee. 

Additionally, the victim doesn’t have to be the harassed individual. Instead, the victim can be anyone affected by the offensive conduct. Finally, claimants can succeed in hostile work environment claims without any economic injury to, or employment termination of, the victim.

“Hard Copy” Evidence of Communications Proving Harassment

If you’ve been the victim of harassment in the workplace, it’s crucial that you save all evidence of a hostile work environment. “Hard copy” communications showing harassment include notes, handwritten letters, drawings, and other means of communication. To have these physical pieces of evidence introduced in court, the employee who received the harassing material must testify to their authenticity and the circumstances under which they came into the employee’s possession. 

Physical Medical Records

Medical records can be used as evidence of the detrimental emotional impact of workplace harassment. Employees subjected to a hostile work environment can cause physical manifestations resulting from the distress, such as anxiety and depression. Medical records can shed light on the severe effect of the harassment on the victim, helping the victim prove the victim’s damages.

Video Surveillance and Photos

In some cases, there may be a video recording of workplace harassment. Many workplaces use videos inside and outside of the workplace. When harassment includes rude or crude gestures, screaming, or other physical demonstrations of harassment, the videos may have picked up on the behavior. Physical evidence can also include screenshots of harassing text messages, emails, group chats, etc. 

Signed Witness Statements

Signed witness statements can be persuasive evidence in hostile work environment claims. Witnesses can write out their statements of harassment behaviors. The statements should include as many details as possible, including dates, times, and which people were involved in the incident. Make sure you make copies of the witness statements and keep the originals. 

Keeping a Record of Physical Evidence of a Hostile Work Environment

Gathering physical evidence of discriminatory harassment is important to succeeding in a compensation claim. As the victim of a hostile work environment, it’s crucial that you save all evidence of harassment. When you submit a complaint to your human resources department, you’ll need to provide them with copies of all of the physical evidence you’ve gathered. 

If you’ve sent emails or letters to managers or the HR department about the harassment previously, make sure you submit that evidence with your complaint. Doing so will prove that your employer was aware of the harassment and failed to address the harassment. Keeping multiple hard copies of physical evidence in different places is essential, especially if you lose one. It’s also wise to keep electronic copies of your evidence in a backed-up file. 

Do I Have to Prove that a Physical Act Occurred?

Claimants can prove hostile work environment claims through statements or physical conduct. Offensive statements are typically insufficient to prove a hostile work environment unless they are blatantly humiliating or rude. When offensive comments are combined with unwelcome physical acts, employees generally have a stronger claim for proving a hostile work environment. 

Proving a Hostile Work Environment May Be Easier Under New York Law

Workplace incidents establishing a hostile work environment may be successful under New York City and state human rights laws, even if they are not successful under federal law. For example, in New York City, an employee only needs to prove that he or she was treated less favorably than other employees due to his or her protected characteristic. The employee may pursue a harassment case without first proving the severity or pervasiveness of the actions. Instead, the issue or pervasiveness or severity is used when calculating damages. 

Contact a New York Hostile Work Environment Attorney

Working in a hostile work environment can cause extreme distress and affect an employee’s productivity. If you believe you’ve been the victim of a hostile work environment as a New York employee, you will benefit from discussing your claim with an experienced attorney. We strongly suggest you contact Lipsky Lowe LLP before you leave your job. We will carefully evaluate your situation and guide you through recovering compensation. Contact Lipsky Lowe LLP to schedule a complimentary case evaluation.