More employees than ever have begun working from home due to the coronavirus pandemic. Working from home offers many benefits, including avoiding a long commute and working in a more comfortable environment. Unfortunately, employees can still be subjected to a hostile work environment even when working from home. If you have been the victim of a hostile work environment in a remote workplace, it’s crucial that you understand your legal rights.
Employers can be held liable for allowing a hostile work environment. Remote workplaces are no exception. If you’ve experienced pervasive offensive conduct or harassment, you will benefit from discussing your case with an attorney. You may have a valid legal claim against your employer. Contact the New York City employment attorneys at Lipsky Lowe LLP today to schedule a case evaluation and learn more about whether you have a valid legal claim.
What Constitutes a Hostile Work Environment for Remote Workers?
According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a hostile work environment exists when an employee experiences pervasively or severely offensive conduct based on race, sex, religion, national origin, disability, or another legally protected status. Hearing offensive, sexist, or racist jokes usually won’t rise to the level of creating a hostile work environment.
To prove that a hostile work environment exists, the employee must show that objectionable behavior occurs frequently. Alternatively, an employee must show that the behavior is so egregious and severe that it can occur only once and still constitute a hostile workplace because the environment is offensive or intimidating to a reasonable person.
The threshold to prove a hostile work environment is lower if you worked in New York City. The threshold is to show only that you were treated less well because of a protected status (e.g., gender, race, national origin, etc.)
Signs of a Remote, Hostile Work Environment
Even though remote workers no longer have in-person, face-to-face interactions with other employees and managers, they can still experience offense of conduct. Pervasive, offensive conduct can occur through digital means, such as text, email, chat, Zoom calls, or other video applications. Some of the most common examples include employees making offensive jokes in emails or chats or using sexual or racial innuendos in messages on forums. Sharing inappropriate, offensive gifts, memes, photos, and videos based on protected characteristics can also create a hostile work environment. Another example would be online bullying.
One of the most important signs that you are in a hostile remote workplace involves unlawful discrimination. The New York City Human Rights Law provides employees with extensive anti-discrimination protection. According to the New York City Human Rights Law, employers cannot discriminate based on any of the following:
- National origin
- Immigration or citizenship status
- Gender (including sexual harassment)
- Gender identify
- Sexual orientation
- Military service
- Marital status
- Partnership status
- Unemployment status
- Credit history
- Arrest or conviction record
- Caregiver status
- Status as a victim of domestic violence, stalking, and sex offense
Do you believe that your employer has taken adverse actions against you or allowed ongoing and pervasive negative comments about you based on any of these characteristics? If so, you may be in a hostile work environment. In a hostile work environment, this type of discrimination could include requiring you to come into the office more than other employees because you are a member of a protected class. It could also include subjecting you to longer or less favorable work-from-home hours than other employees.
Harassment occurs when a coworker uses your protective characteristics, such as your race, age, or gender identity, to make you feel threatened or unsafe. Employees can feel threatened or unsafe while working from home because harassment doesn’t exclusively occur in a physical office. For example, an employee could send images that make you feel threatened or uncomfortable while working from home, such as text messages or Slack messages.
Not all toxic workplaces rise to the level of unlawful hostile work environments. Every hostile workplace is toxic for employees. They feel threatened because of bullying, high turnover raises, or watching employers retaliate against employees who don’t like them. Managers and bosses who don’t establish safe boundaries with employees can cause a toxic workplace.
Non-Inclusivity and Backstabbing
Finally, suppose you work from home and feel you’re being treated unfairly or not included in major decisions because of your membership in a protected class. In that case, your employer may have created a hostile work environment. Non-inclusion can hurt a company’s culture. It can also lay the groundwork for employees to assume that they can engage in offensive and toxic behavior. Managers who encourage ruthlessly cutthroat competition are more likely to have hostile work environments.
Proving a Hostile Work Environment Claim
The standard for proving a hostile work environment is the same whether you work in a physical office or a remote job site. You will need to show that your work environment was hostile and that a reasonable person would feel abused or threatened by the offensive behavior you were subjected to. You also need to show that the hostile work environment negatively affected your work performance.
Proving hostile work environment claims can be challenging because the evidence may be based on conflicting accounts of what an employee or multiple employees did. For that reason, it’s crucial that you document as much of the hostile work environment as you can. Take screenshots of inappropriate messages, save inappropriate videos and images, and keep your evidence organized to share with your attorney. Since most work-from-home hostile work environment claims are based on electronic interactions, the likelihood of obtaining proof through recordings is greater.
Reach Out to an Experienced NYC Employment Attorney
Do you believe you’ve experienced hostile workplace harassment while working from home? If so, your first step should be to document the offensive incident for the record. You should also put your employer on notice that the harassment is occurring. Employers cannot retaliate against employees for bringing hostile work environment claims against them.
It’s also important that you discuss your case with an experienced employment attorney who can help you evaluate the strength of your legal claim and protect your rights throughout the process. Contact the New York City employment attorneys at Lipsky Lowe LLP today to schedule your free, no-obligation case evaluation.