What is a Hostile Work Environment?

A hostile work environment exists when an employee is subject to continued harassment based on their membership in a protected class. If your employer either participates in the harassment or tolerates the harassment, you may have a claim with either the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the Arizona Civil Rights Division (CRD).

Workplace Harassment Based on Protected Characteristics

It isimportant to note that the harassment must be based on a protected characteristic in order to create a hostile work environment. Federal and state laws protect certain characteristics, but not all workplace harassment is covered. If a coworker is harassing you based on something other than a protected characteristic, you will not be protected by anti-discrimination laws, although you may have other claims depending on the exact nature of the harassment.

Characteristics that are protected by federal or Arizona law include:

  • Race
  • Color
  • National Origin
  • Sex
  • Age (over 40)
  • Disability
  • Genetic information
  • Citizenship status
  • Pregnancy

In most cases, employers must have 15 or more employees to be subject to federal and Arizona anti-discrimination laws, although there are some exceptions.

A hostile work environment can also exist when an employer retaliates after an employee takes a certain action. For example, an employee may file a workers’ compensation claim or report an employer violation of wage and hour laws. If the employee is harassed in retaliation for these actions, the employer may be violating these specific statutes and be subject to a retaliation claim.

Hostile Work Conditions and Constructive Discharge

If your work environment is so hostile that you are forced to resign, you may be able to file a wrongful termination lawsuit, even if you were not fired.  This type of claim is called a constructive discharge.

You may have to give your employer notice before resigning to preserve your right to sue. In fact, it may be a good idea to notify your employer of the situation and give them a chance to respond prior to resigning. Employers have to take these complaints seriously and implement appropriate action to resolve the employee’s concerns.

Both employees and employers should consult with an employment law attorney whenever a hostile work environment arises. A number of remedies may be available, including internal remedies with the company, filing claims with administrative agencies, or litigation.

Chernoff Law handles employment law matters throughout Arizona. Contact us by calling 480-719-7307 to discuss your employment dispute.

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