woman looking angry with man behind her annoying coworker

Does your co-worker or boss continuously yell at you, harass you, or intrude on your personal space at work? If so, you may be wondering how to recognize whether your annoying coworker is creating a hostile work environment. Under federal, state, and local law, employers are legally prohibited from allowing a hostile work environment in the workplace. Many of us have had to cope with annoying co-workers in our workplaces. However, not all annoying behaviors rise to the level of an unlawful hostile working environment. 

Determining whether an annoying co-worker has created a hostile work environment can be challenging. We recommend speaking with an experienced employment lawyer about your case. The New York City employment lawyers at Lipsky Lowe LLP will listen to the facts of your case and advise you of your legal options. New York has strict anti-discrimination laws, and you may be entitled to compensation or another form of restitution. Contact us today to schedule your initial consultation to learn more about your legal rights.

Not All Annoying Habits of a Coworker Create a Hostile Work Environment

Most working adults have experienced co-workers whose annoying habits make it difficult to concentrate at work. Working in close quarters with other co-workers is always an adjustment. We can’t expect to change all of our co-workers’ annoying quirks, but some annoying behaviors constitute unlawful harassment. When an employee continuously annoys his or her co-workers, it can make the entire team resentful and tense. Examples of annoying workplace behavior include:

  • Making an unreasonable amount of noise
  • Causing confusion or chaos in meetings or conference calls
  • Not using proper hygiene and creating a disturbance in the form of strong smells
  • Continuously chit-chatting with co-workers 
  • Touching a co-worker too often, even with friendly gestures
  • Invading the personal space of co-workers

Some of these annoying habits are unprofessional, but they don’t always constitute harassment in the form of a hostile work environment. However, if the behavior listed above is pervasive enough and limits you for completing your work, it may create a hostile work environment. When a co-worker is annoying you to the point that it interferes with your work, you may benefit from speaking with the offender personally. If your co-worker doesn’t stop engaging in these annoying habits, you may need to speak to your manager or human resources department. 

The Legal Requirements of a Hostile Work Environment

Not all annoying behavior meets the requirements for a hostile work environment. The legal term hostile work environment has a distinct definition. Under federal and state law, a hostile work environment is any workplace where a co-worker’s or supervisor’s conduct has created a discriminatory environment. A reasonable person must find the work environment so intimidating or abusive that it impacts his or her ability to work. Being excluded from invitations to get lunch or being gently teased occasionally is not enough to create an environment that is so abusive you cannot work. 

If you were employed in New York City, the threshold to prove a hostile work environment is less.  You need only provide you were treated less well than others because of your protected status (e.g., age, race, national origin, disability)

Examples of Annoying Conduct That Can Create a Hostile Work Environment

A co-worker’s annoying habits can create a hostile work environment when other co-workers must endure the conduct or face termination from their appointment. For example, a supervisor or employer may use harassment to force a person to comply or force an employee to quit. When the annoying conduct is severe and pervasive enough to create a situation that seems abusive, hostile, or intimidating, the conduct has created a hostile work environment. 

Sometimes, the annoying behavior of a coworker doesn’t create a hostile work environment. Still, an employer will retaliate against an employee who files a complaint about annoying behavior with the human resources department. Retaliating against an employee for filing a complaint related to harassment is illegal under New York and federal law. The following workplace behaviors can create a hostile work environment:

  • Offensive jokes
  • Insults or name-calling
  • Intimidation or ridicule
  • Use of sexual language or pictures
  • Interference with work performance
  • Using insensitive terms or slurs
  • Making inappropriate gestures
  • Making unwanted comments about physical traits
  • Displaying racist pictures 
  • Continuously emailing or instant messaging a co-worker
  • Unwanted touching
  • Sabotaging a co-worker’s career or work product

Filing a Claim in New York

We recommend discussing your case with one of our employment lawyers, who can help you determine whether annoying behaviors rise to the level of unlawful harassment. What happens if your employer refuses to address the annoying behaviors of your co-worker? If you’ve gone through your employer’s process for submitting grievances and your employer fails to take the appropriate actions to curb the behavior, filing a legal claim may become necessary. 

Successful claimants are often entitled to compensation for the harassment they endured. In some cases, administrative agencies will require the employer either to enforce prohibiting the harassment or to reinstate the employee. If your position was terminated for filing a claim related to your co-worker’s behavior, you could seek compensation for your lost income.

Contact a New York City Employment Lawyer

Is your co-worker making it difficult for you to do your work? Is your co-worker’s annoying behavior creating a hostile work environment? If so, you may have a harassment claim against your employer. When a co-worker’s annoying behaviors create a hostile work environment, it’s worth taking the time to understand your legal options. The New York City lawyers at Lipsky Lowe LLP will review your case and help you understand your legal options. Contact us today to schedule your initial consultation.