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Hostile work environment
  • Employers must address harassing conduct immediately to protect employees from a hostile work environment.
  • Courts consider several factors when ruling on if a work environment is hostile.

A hostile work environment is defined as behavior that creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment. A hostile environment is one that may contain discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, or insults — an environment created or condoned by the employer.

Among court cases, only those work environments that reasonable individuals find seriously hostile or abusive are considered “hostile environments.” The actions must be severe or pervasive enough to alter the workplace for the employee.

Of course, it can be very difficult to draw a line between offensive sexual conduct and unlawful sexual harassment. This is why employers must address harassing conduct immediately.

Sexual harassment is illegal when:

  1. It creates a hostile work environment. This means:
    • The conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive (with a hostile work environment, the harasser could be anyone); and
    • A hostile work environment can exist even if conduct isn’t directed at anyone in particular.
    In rulings, courts consider:
    • Nature of the conduct,
    • Frequency of the conduct,
    • Status of the harasser,
    • Number of harassers, and
    • Number of victims.