The contemporary workplace is governed by city, state and federal laws to protect workers from a hostile work environment. A hostile work environment is not one that is merely unpleasant due to bad bosses or rude colleagues; there are specific legal criteria that determine when a workplace is considered hostile. If you believe you have been subjected to a hostile work environment, the best way to protect your rights is to consult an experienced employment law attorney.

At Lipsky Lowe LLP, we are committed to eradicating workplace harassment in all its forms. Well-versed in the provisions of applicable local, state and federal employment laws, we have a proven history of handling hostile environment claims in New York and New Jersey. We believe you have a right to a workplace that is free from harassment and that you should not be forced to leave your job due to the offensive conduct of a colleague or a supervisor. When you become our client, we will be the strength in your corner, fighting to protect your rights.

What is a hostile work environment?

A hostile work environment is not merely an unpleasant environment, but rather one in which the conduct or communications of a supervisor or coworker makes it impossible for an employee to perform his or her duties. Moreover, the hostility must be related to specific unlawful conduct, such as discrimination, harassment or retaliation. That is, the harassing conduct must be motivated by a protected status: (e.g. sex, race, national origin, age, sexual orientation, religion, disability). Stated another way, if your boss is an “equal opportunity jerk,” he or she is likely not breaking the law. But your boss is likely breaking the law if he/she noticeably treats women, African Americans, Jews, for example, less well.

Ultimately, hostile work environment claims depend on determining the types of behaviors that qualify as harassment. This can range from making inappropriate comments about a female employee’s appearance to making racist jokes, to continuously asking an older worker when he or she is going to retire, to mocking an employee with a disability.

In short, the offensive behavior must alter the terms, conditions and/or reasonable expectations of a comfortable work environment. While mere rude or inappropriate behavior may not create a hostile environment, a coworker who tells sexually explicit or racist jokes may be guilty of sexual harassment or discrimination, respectively, both of which may constitute a hostile work environment.

In any event, creating a hostile work environment is prohibited under federal laws including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). Additionally, workers in New York are protected by local and state laws such as the New York City Human Rights Act and the New York State Human Rights Act, while workers in New Jersey are protected by the state’s Law Against Discrimination.

Under Title VII and the New York State law, to qualify as a hostile work environment, the conduct must be considered offensive by a reasonable person in the same circumstances. The standard is different under the New York City Human Rights Law: the threshold is that you are treated differently because of your gender, race, or other legally protected characteristics.

How can I protect myself from a hostile work environment?

While there are powerful legal remedies available to you under state and federal law, the first thing to do if you are being subjected to a hostile environment is to warn the offender that the behavior is offensive and will not be tolerated. If the behavior persists, then it is critically important to document any incidents of harassment or discrimination. This will serve as important evidence if you decide to pursue a hostile environment claim.

Contact Our NYC Hostile Work Environment Lawyer

Whether you have experienced workplace harassment or need to defend your business against a hostile work environment claim, our employment law attorneys have the knowledge and skill to protect your interests. For employees, we can help you file a claim against your employer in state or federal court, although we prefer to reach negotiated solutions to employment disputes. At Lipsky Lowe LLP, we have a proven track record of achieving successful outcomes inside or outside of the courtroom. Please contact our employment law attorneys to set up a consultation.