Safeguarding Your Rights In The Workplace

When does hostile treatment at work cross the line?

On Behalf of | Sep 9, 2021 | Employment Law

The workplace can be stressful, intense, competitive and demanding, but if it is satisfying as well as rewarding, the positives can more than outweigh the negatives. But for employees in Texas and across the country who find themselves in an atmosphere of unpleasantness, where rude co-workers or superiors pick on others or where there is no teamwork, the job can quickly become dissatisfying and even toxic. Without any job perks or incentives, such as recognition or other benefits, it may turn into a hostile workplace.

As it turns out, American employees believe a bad workplace environment is management’s responsibility. A Gallup survey from February of this year showed that 70% of employees believe that a manager is to blame for a toxic work environment that contributes to worker disengagement. In the survey, more than half were looking for a new job or open to a new one.

How does the law define a hostile work environment?

Federal law defines a hostile work environment as the harassment by one individual toward another that creates workplace conditions that are intimidating, hostile or abusive, or when facing this treatment is a condition of continued employment. The law also prohibits harassment or termination in retaliation for a harassment complaint, inquiry, testimony or filing.

Offensive conduct may include off-color jokes, racial slurs, threats, physical intimidation, insults or ridicule, and may occur when:

  • the harasser is a superior, co-worker, agent or non-employee
  • harassment of another affects another co-worker
  • harassment is chronic and does not involve economic injury or job termination

In its recommendations, the EEOC encourages management to foster a positive environment by clearly stating a zero-tolerance policy for such behavior and establishing a complaint or grievance process.

Who is responsible in a harassment claim?

Regardless of who the individual is who is discriminating against or harassing another person, it is the employer who will be held liable, both under federal and Texas state laws. The charges against them may include creating or being the source of hostile work conditions. A harassment claim may seek compensation for:

  • loss of pay
  • cost of a new job search
  • medical bills
  • pain and suffering

The court may also assess punitive damages to the employer as a deterrent against similar future actions. For Houston residents who have experienced workplace harassment or discrimination, it is important to find out how the law protects their rights when pursuing a claim.