Understanding a hostile work environment

On Behalf of | Nov 27, 2019 | Firm News

If you are like most Minnesota employees, your workplace does not always live up to your employer’s “one big happy family” assertions. Unfortunately, you probably have to deal with one or more coworkers on a daily basis who say and do things that make you feel uncomfortable at best and sexually harassed at worst.

Workplace sexual harassment takes two forms: quid pro quo and a hostile work environment. Quid pro quo is Latin for “this for that,” and occurs when your supervisor, boss, etc. makes unwanted sexual advances toward you, promising to enhance your employment position in exchange for your tolerating them. It could also occur if he or she threatens you with a demotion or other negative workplace consequences if you fail to tolerate them.

A hostile work environment refers to any coworker making comments or engaging in actions that make you feel uncomfortable, such as any of the following:

  • Giving you a crude or sexually suggestive gift
  • Using crude of sexually suggestive language around you
  • Staring at you or making inappropriate gestures toward you
  • Telling off-color or racially, ethnically or religiously demeaning jokes about you or anyone else in your presence
  • Making inappropriate comments about your or anyone else’s appearance in your presence
  • Touching you in inappropriate and unwanted ways, such as rubbing up against you, kissing you, etc.

Suing for a hostile work environment

You have the legal right to sue your employer for tolerating a hostile work environment, but many factors, including the following, enter into whether or not you will prevail in your lawsuit:

  • The type of harassment your coworker perpetrated against you
  • The length of time during which he or she harassed you
  • The intensity of his or her harassment
  • The ways in which this harassment negatively impacted your workplace performance and productivity

Because a hostile work environment often devolves into a he-said-she-said battle, your best interests dictate that you document each and every instance of it as soon as it happens. In addition, you should not only immediately and consistently tell the perpetrator to stop, but also report his or her harassment to the appropriate person on your company’s management team.