Hostile Work Environment
The average American employee will spend more than 95,000 hours at work over his or her lifetime. When so much of your life is focused on the workplace, you need an environment that is supportive of your career and let you put your talents to work.
However, for many American workers, managers and coworkers can turn the office into a battle zone. Although workplace harassment is in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and companies have established zero-tolerance policies, you could be at risk for harassment the moment you walk into work.
One-third of American employees have reported being bullied at work sometime in their careers, and according to the Insurance Journal, companies paid out more than $356 million in harassment lawsuit settlements in 2012. A hostile work environment can be devastating for both the employee and employer – bullied workers report higher levels of stress, health issues and problems at home while employers experience higher turnovers, litigation costs and loss of productivity.
Even if your company has anti-harassment policies in place, if you feel you are experiencing a hostile work environment, you need to follow a few guidelines to protect your career and your health:
- Understand what constitutes harassment. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, harassment is unlawful if enduring unwelcome conduct based on your race, gender, religion, or other personal reason is a condition of your employment or if the conduct is severe enough that your workplace becomes hostile or abusive. In extreme cases, the harassment affects the victim’s employment status, whether it’s demotion or failure to promote. Slurs, physical threats, intimidation, and offensive jokes are all examples of workplace harassment.
- Do not feel like you have to talk to your harasser about his or her conduct. That dirty joke your manager tells in the break room might be a way for him to blow off some steam, but to you as his subordinate, it may come off as intimidating and awkward. If a situation makes you uncomfortable or threatened, it’s important to not be perceived as welcoming the conduct. Do not laugh or joke with the harasser, and let him know that you are uncomfortable. But, do not feel like you have to confront him. It is the company’s responsibility to keep the workplace free from harassment. Instead, if the situation continues, it’s crucial to keep a record of all harassment incidents.
- Gather evidence of the harassment. Everyone has heard that harassment is “he-said/she-said”, so it is important that you take all the steps you can to protect yourself. First, begin by keeping a log of all the incidents that occur. Second, keep any emails/texts or documents that show the harasser’s behavior. Third, record the harassment if you can. Most phones have recording devices. It is legal to record a conversation in Georgia as long as you are a party to the conversation. So, don’t leave a recorder and walk away, but if you are being harassed – record it.
- Report instances of harassment to management. To prevent a hostile situation from escalating, you should report any harassment to your human resources department as early as possible so that the company can take appropriate and immediate action to rectify the situation. If you do not have an HR department, the company doesn’t have an employee handbook or you feel the company won’t validate your concerns, call our attorneys for advice on how to proceed. You can schedule your own appointment to speak with an attorney today for no charge.
- Seek help outside company doors. If you feel your concerns have not been addressed, the situation has not improved, or worst of all, you are demoted, terminated or not promoted because of your harasser, it is time to contact an employment lawyer who specializes in discrimination and workplace harassment like the attorneys at Barrett & Farahany. We are happy to help you, and will discuss your situation by telephone at no charge. Call us at (404) 620-6811 or schedule your own appointment.
Today’s employees work too hard to have their talents and work compromised by harassment in the workplace. Laws are in place to protect your career against abuse and intimidation – as an employee, you need to understand your rights. You are not alone. Let us help!