Hostile Work Environment Lawyers | New York | Bantle & Levy LLP

Hostile Work Environment

Do you feel as though the actions and remarks made by the people you work with or for are offensive and make your workplace experience uncomfortable? If so, you may be working in a hostile work environment. 

Somewhat confusingly, not all hostile work environments are “hostile work environments” under the law. For example, some people might characterize their workplaces as “hostile” because they report to difficult bosses or work with challenging coworkers. While these kinds of issues certainly might make one’s workplace less than ideal, they may not necessarily meet the legal definition of a “hostile work environment.” Let our hostile work environment lawyers explain more. 

What Is a Hostile Work Environment?

While there is no fixed definition of a hostile work environment, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) describes it as a “form of employment discrimination that violates 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).”

The New York hostile work environment law does not cover issues such as petty squabbles, low benefits/perks, and other isolated incidents that do not rise to the level of illegality. There are exceptions for extremely serious isolated incidents.

Rather, a “hostile work environment” is a legal term of art describing a form of employment discrimination that manifests in unwelcomed discriminatory conduct based on (among other protected classes) one’s race, religion, gender, national origin, age, disability, sexual orientation, and/or gender identity. Essentially, a hostile work environment is a form of discriminatory harassment.

Now that you know what a hostile work environment is, let’s get into the other details.

What Makes a Hostile Work Environment?

Examples of a hostile work environment include:

  • Offensive or insensitive jokes;
  • Insults, slurs, and name-calling;
  • Displaying racist, bigoted, homophobic, or sexually inappropriate pictures;
  • Touching, physical assaults, and threats;
  • Intimidation, ridicule, and mockery; and
  • Use of sexually suggestive language.

This type of behavior is prohibited under federal, New York State, and New York City law. However, the protections afforded under those laws differ, and conduct that violates one might not violate another. What follows is a general, broad overview of those laws.

Due to inadequate awareness, it is normal for a harassed employee to wonder about what makes a hostile work environment. Given the legal nuances, if you believe that you are experiencing a hostile work environment, it is important to seek legal counsel as soon as possible. An experienced attorney can educate you about your rights and help you understand what actions you can take and how best to manage your situation.

New York Hostile Work Environment Law

Like the federal laws discussed above, the New York State Human Rights Law (“NYSHRL”) and the New York City Human Rights Law (“NYCHRL”) broadly prohibit employment discrimination based on protected classes such as race, color, religion, national origin, sex (including sexual orientation, gender identity, and pregnancy status), age, and disability. However, there are significant differences between the two sets of laws.

First, the NYCHRL is applicable to all New York City employers City with 4 or more employees, and the NYSHRL is applicable to all New York employers regardless of how many persons they employ.

Second, and perhaps more significantly, the NYCHRL and the NYSHRL have done away with the “severe and pervasive” standard applicable under the federal laws. Rather, under the New York laws, hostile work environment claims are actionable if someone is subjected “to in inferior terms, conditions or privileges of employment” because of their protected characteristic “regardless of whether [the] harassment would be considered severe or pervasive.”[3] Consequently, the NYCHRL and NYSHRL afford greater protections to people who have been subjected to discriminatory harassment in the workplace than their federal law counterparts.

If you’re wondering whether your workplace environment can be considered hostile, our experienced lawyers in NYC can provide answers. Your circumstances need to meet the following legal requirements of a hostile work environment:

  • Your supervisors or coworkers exhibit discriminatory behavior against you due to your religion, race, gender, age, sexual orientation, disability, nationality, or any other categories protected by the EEOC.
  • A reasonable person would find the work environment abusive.
  • Your employer was aware of the hostile environment and the constant violation of your rights but chose not to intercede.
  •  The derogatory conduct of your boss and/or colleagues has become a regular occurrence and a long-lasting issue.
  •  Your employer has failed to investigate and address the problem.
  • Your desire or ability to work has been severely impacted due to the discrimination.

Struggling with a Hostile Work Environment? Call Bantle & Levy LLP.

While rude bosses and obnoxious coworkers make the workplace environment unpleasant, these behaviors do not fall under the legal description of a hostile workplace. It is important to understand what a hostile work environment is to be able to do something about it.

The first step is to approach the relevant authorities at your workplace and report your situation. If this doesn’t go as planned or if your situation does not change, you’ll have to take the legal route. A seasoned NYC hostile work environment lawyer can help you stop the discrimination and hostility, and obtain financial compensation.

If you meet any of the above-mentioned legal requirements, you’re probably facing a hostile work environment. Don’t hesitate to contact us at Bantle & Levy LLP. We can discuss your options with the patience, compassion, and expertise you deserve. Call us today.

[1] Meritor Savings Bank, FSB v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57, 67 (1986).
[2] Harris v. Forklift Sys., Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 21-22 (1993) (“Conduct that is not severe or pervasive enough to create an objectively hostile or abusive work environment-an environment that a reasonable person would find hostile or abusive-is beyond Title VII’s purview. Likewise, if the victim does not subjectively perceive the environment to be abusive, the conduct has not actually altered the conditions of the victim’s employment, and there is no Title VII violation.”)
[3] N.Y. Exec. L. § 296(1)(h).

Federal Law

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), which applies to employers with 15 or more employees, prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, and sex (including sexual orientation, gender identity, and pregnancy status). The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (“ADEA”) and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”), which apply to employers with 20 or more employees, prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of age and disability, respectively.

Under Title VII, the ADEA, and the ADA, discriminatory harassment based on membership in a protected class can give rise to a hostile work environment claim where it is “sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim's employment and create an abusive working environment.”[1] This is sometimes referred to as the “severe or pervasive” standard.

What makes discriminatory harassment “severe or pervasive?” As the Supreme Court has explained, to meet that standard a plaintiff bringing suit on a hostile work environment theory under Title VII, the ADEA, or the ADA must demonstrate (1) that “a reasonable person would find” the challenged conduct “hostile or abusive” and (2) that he/she/they “subjectively perceive[d]” it to be hostile or abusive.[2]

Citing the “severe or pervasive” standard, courts have found that some offensive workplace behavior – such as teasing or offhand remarks – may not rise to the level of unlawful harassment.

Blogs About Hostile Work Environment

employee experiencing hostile work environment

What Constitutes a Hostile Work Environment?

Many workers have at one point had to deal with an unpleasant work experience. In situations like this, you might hear the term “hostile work environment” tossed around. This might...

Bantle & Levy February 2022

LGBT Rights

Equality Arrives for LGBTQ Employees!

In 1970, Jack Baker and his life partner, James McConnell, applied to the state of Minnesota for a marriage license.  It was the first time in U.S. history that two...

Bantle & Levy June 2020

CONTACT INFORMATION

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Contact Information

99 Park Avenue, Suite 1510
New York, 10016
(On Park Avenue between 39th Street and 40th Street)