Hostile Work Environment

What constitutes a hostile environment?

How do you know whether your work environment is truly hostile under the law?  Almost half of all EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) complaints are dismissed due to not meeting the criteria established by both federal and state laws.  

First of all you would need to belong to a protected class of worker; a minority, have a disability - including a temporary disability such as pregnancy, or be targeted because of your age or religion.  

To constitute a hostile work environment, the behavior or communication must be pervasive, lasting over time, and not limited to an off-color remark or two that a coworker found annoying. These incidents should be reported to your union, and/or Human Resources.  HR would need to provide some type of intervention, but this does not meet the EEOC standard for a complaint.

The hostile behavior, actions, or communication must be severe. Not only is it pervasive over time, but the hostility must seriously disrupt the employee’s work. The second form of severity occurs if the hostile work environment interferes with an employee’s career progress. For example, the employee failed to receive a promotion or a job rotation as a result of the hostile behavior.

If it is reasonable to assume that the employer knew about the actions or behavior and did not sufficiently intervene, the employer can be liable for the creation of a hostile work environment.  The union must give HR an opportunity to appropriately intervene in these situations.  If HR doesn't intervene, or the behavior does not stop, a grievance or complaint is written and the issue gets escalated.

Should another employee push, shove, physically assault, or verbally threaten you with assault, you need to call security right away and report the incident.  HR will be tasked with conducting an investigation.  Anyone witnessing the assault will be questioned.  This happens rarely, but it does happen.

As house officers, you are viewed as temporary employees.  Depending on the circumstances, you might be made to feel like you should "down play" the incident.  The employee being investigated may have a long history with those who witnessed the incident, and with those in positions of authority.  The witness or witnesses may not be as forthcoming with information and details which support your version of the incident.  The authority figure may fail to deal with the situation to your satisfaction.  Your union can help.

Never be afraid to contact your union.  The HOA is here to support, and guide you, in determining how to proceed after such an event.