Workplace competition can help businesses increase productivity and profit levels. However, when employers begin playing favorites and promoting competition excessively, they can create a hostile work environment. Inspiring competition among employees doesn’t always create a hostile work environment. Nonetheless, when competitiveness contributes to unethical effects and toxic behavior, employees can hold the employer legally responsible.

Have you been the victim of an overly competitive workplace? Has your employer or manager been playing favorites and discriminating against you? If so, you may have a valid workplace harassment claim. The sooner you reach out to an experienced employment lawyer, the better. Contact Lipsky Lowe LLP today to schedule your initial consultation. Our award-winning employment lawyers will carefully review your situation and advise you of your best legal pass forward.

When Does Workplace Competition Become Toxic?

There is a form of healthy workplace competition. For example, many employers offer incentives in the form of bonuses to employees who achieve performance goals. Workplace competition can help employees stay motivated and productive. Unfortunately, employers sometimes cross the line into creating a toxic work environment by pushing competitiveness too far. 

New York City is known as the city that never sleeps, and that slogan is true in many New York City workplace cultures. Taking necessary time off to rest and engage in personal care on days off can expose an employee to ridicule among co-workers or management. Many employees feel like they will be fired at any moment if they don’t compete fiercely in their workplace. 

If you’re interested in a further understanding of what is and is not an example of a hostile work environment, visit our comprehensive infographic covering circumstances.

Signs Of An Overcompetitive Workplace & Playing Favorites in New York City

Signs of an overly competitive workplace typically involve a charged and stressful atmosphere. When competitiveness helps employees try to outdo each other in a productive, friendly way, the employer hasn’t created a hostile work environment. However, when workplace competitiveness becomes a zero-sum game, a hostile workplace can occur. 

Suppose your employer rewards your co-worker who does the best on a sales goal but punishes every other employee. The employer fires an employee to “make an example” of what happens when employees don’t perform well enough. As a result, the employees become stressed and worried about losing their jobs, creating a hostile work environment. When one employee’s success causes other employees to worry about their job security, employees can become hostile to each other and try to make them fail.

You might also find the work environment is a “Bro club” where only the men work together and socialize together. This is intentional and disadvantages women, making it illegal. 

Workplace Favoritism Can Cause Stress, Defensiveness, and Secretiveness 

When an employer chooses favorites and punishes non-favorite employees, the workplace culture can become highly stressful. Each employee will try to become the favorite employee to avoid being fired, demoted, or taking on the least favorable duties. When a supervisor uses one employee’s excellent performance to degrade another employee, employees can become overly defensive. Employees may feel a constant need to prove that they are better than their co-workers to prove their worth and keep their job.

Favoritism can also cause extreme secretiveness in a workplace and employees’ reluctance to share information with co-workers. Unfortunately, secrecy in the workplace can make employees less likely to report sexual harassment and other types of harassment. When employers use favoritism, employees may be more unwilling to report misconduct for fear of falling out of favor with their employer. A secretive workplace environment can increase harassment and disincentivize employees from challenging misconduct.

Bringing A Hostile Work Environment Claim In New York City

Limited instances of unhealthy competition and favoritism aren’t always enough to bring a successful hostile work environment claim in New York City. Have you experienced a heavily competitive workplace? If so, you may be able to recover compensation and put a stop to the treatment you’ve received by filing a hostile work environment claim. You will need to prove certain elements to succeed in a hostile work environment claim. There are federal, state, and city rules that prohibit employers from allowing hostile work environments in New York City, such as:

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
  • Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967
  • Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990
  • New York State Human Rights Laws
  • New York City’s Human Rights Laws

Sexual harassment isn’t the only type of prohibited sexual harassment in New York. It can include any discriminatory environment based on an employee’s religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, ethnicity, age (40 or older), genetic information, or disability. When an employer shows favoritism, he or she may be engaging in unlawful discrimination. 

Suppose an employer only chooses men to be his favorite employees, giving them bonuses while denying female co-workers with similar experience and successes. In that case, he is engaging in unlawful discrimination. Similarly, suppose an employer continues to make disparaging comments about people belonging to a certain religion, frequently claiming that people of this faith can never be competitive in the workplace. Both of these scenarios are examples of hostile work environments.

The Favoritism Or Competitiveness Must Be Pervasive

When bringing a hostile work environment claim, the employee must prove that the behavior is pervasive or severe enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider abusive, hostile, or intimidating. An off-handed comment about people of a certain race, religion, or national origin, typically isn’t enough to win a hostile work environment claim. Instead, the victim must prove that their employer’s favoritism or competitive work environment negatively impacted his or her conditions or terms of employment. Courts will look at the cumulative effect of the hostile atmosphere, including: 

  • The severity of the discriminatory conduct
  • The frequency
  • Whether the conduct unreasonably interferes with an employee’s work performance
  • The effect on the employee’s psychological well-being
  • Whether the conduct is humiliating or physically threatening, not merely offensive

Contact a New York City Hostile Work Environment Lawyer Today

If you’ve been the victim of an overly competitive workplace or favoritism, you may be entitled to compensation through a hostile work environment claim. Contact the experienced employment lawyers at Lipsky Lowe LLP today to schedule your initial consultation.