Hostile Work Environment Not Limited to Sex

Labor & Employment Law Articles

Hostile Work Environment Not Limited to Sex

Most companies are aware of the fact that sexual harassment can take one of two forms: quid pro quo in which advancement or continuation in the company is contingent on sexual favors; and hostile environment which can result from abusive comments, offensive jokes, or visible pornography. However, a hostile work environment that violates the law does not have to be based on sex. In one case, the court held that a hostile environment age discrimination case can be brought under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. To establish such a claim, the employee must show that the harassment was based on age and that it unreasonably interfered with work performance and created an objectively intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.

Accordingly, employers who are on guard to avoid a hostile environment based on sex must also be on guard to prevent a hostile environment based on age, religion, race, national origin, disability, etc. Just as a sexual jokes can create a hostile environment, so can ethnic jokes.

A hostile work environment based on race played a key role in a case in California where a jury returned a verdict of $11.1 million to a former sales employee of Pitney Bowes who had resigned after numerous instances of harassment including incidents where co-workers made racial remarks.

In order to avoid this kind of suit, it is necessary for employers to extend their anti-sexual harassment policies to cover other kinds of prohibited harassment. This includes providing a procedure by which employees can complain, without retaliation, of such harassment, the prompt investigation of such complaints, and appropriate remedial action at the conclusion of such investigations. Companies who have such policies and comply with them can usually avoid exposure to harassment claims