For a considerable number of Arizona residents, work is just that – work. It is not particularly pleasurable or meaningful, but it is what they must do in order to have the money necessary to meet their living expenses, provide for their families, and enjoy some of life’s finer things. Workers in Arizona do not (unfortunately) have any right to a joyful, happy, or meaningful workplace environment. However, federal and state laws do protect Arizona workers against “hostile” work environments. While this principle is clear, what is less clear is when a workplace crosses the line between unpleasant to hostile.
What is a hostile work environment?
- “Hostile” implies offensive and abusive conduct. Just because a coworker told a tasteless joke around the watercooler at which your boss laughed does not mean you are employed at a hostile work environment. In determining whether your work environment is indeed hostile, a court or other government personnel would consider the severity of the actions that are alleged to be occurring. In order to rise to the level of a “hostile” work environment, the behavior occurring in your workplace must be offensive and/or abusive. Your ability to perform your job must usually be negatively affected by the activity. In general, rudeness, petty personal insults, and/or isolated jokes that make you feel uncomfortable but that have no impact on your ability to complete your job tasks will not usually support a finding that your workplace is “hostile.” When evaluating whether the behaviors and activities at a workplace are severe enough to be considered “hostile,” courts and investigating officers will look at the activity through the lens of a reasonable person in your position. In other words, if the court or investigator believes your reaction to the conduct is unreasonably sensitive, your workplace may not found to be “hostile.”
- “Hostile” requires ongoing or continuous conduct. Even if a particular act is deemed to be sufficiently severe, a hostile work environment will not be found absent evidence that the behavior or action is part of an ongoing pattern of abusive or offensive conduct aimed at you. The behavior must be of an unrelenting and continuous nature, one that would not allow a reasonable person in your position to carry out his or her job duties without unending mockery, harassment, teasing, etc.
- “Hostile” does not cover every act of harassment. In workplace discrimination cases, unlawful harassment or discrimination occurs when a person is singled out for negative treatment because of one or more protected classifications or statuses of the victim. While these protected classifications and statuses cover a wide variety of personal characteristics – age, sex, ethnicity, national origin, religion, etc. – not every classification is protected. Although unwelcome and hurtful, workplace teasing because of your choice of lunch may not be protected (unless, of course, your lunch choices are informed and dictated by your religion). Even if you endured harassment over your baloney sandwich each and every day, it may not be legally actionable and it may not be considered a hostile work environment.
Document Your Experiences
If you believe you may be working in a hostile work environment, one of the ways you can help build a case to be investigated by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the Arizona Attorney General’s office is to keep detailed notes concerning the offensive and abusive conduct you endure. You should document the days you endure abusive conduct, the nature of the conduct, who initiates and participates in the conduct, when and what supervisor you speak with about the conduct, and any response from management you receive. Keep this information in a safe location and be prepared to give this information to the EEOC or the Arizona Attorney General’s office upon request. If you want more information about what you need to know about hostile work environments contact the experienced attorneys at My AZ Legal Team, PLLC.