Hostile Work Environment Laws in Texas
What Qualifies as a Hostile Work Environment?
Say there was a company where the boss was a real jerk, being very rude and yelling at the employees often. Perhaps the other coworkers are also being very rude and treating you differently based upon being new or any reason.
You’re stagnating in the company, or even moving downwards, being written up and not being eligible for any promotions. It really has made work a much less happy place to be and is starting to make you hate your job. Are you eligible to sue?
Simply, with only the above given information, no. The above may constitute a “hostile work environment” in its commonplace definition, though litigation does not provide any respite with regards to terrible management or dingy working conditions.
Hostile work environment claims can not simply be based on the working space being grungy, tense, or just overall not desirable to be around. A hostile work environment claim must entail that the person filing the claim feels that it is based upon discrimination with regards to a protected class trait.
What are the Protected Characteristics?
It is only possible to sue with a hostile work environment claim if the hostile work environment is perceived to be a result of possessing a protected characteristic. These traits include:
- Discrimination as a result of sex, sexual orientation, or gender identification
- Discrimination as a result of race or ethnic background
- Discrimination based upon another’s religion or spiritual background or cultural heritage
- A discriminatory environment as a result of a person’s age
- Discrimination based upon disability
How can One Prove Hostile Work Environment?
To establish that a hostile work environment is illegal, even if it pertains to a protected characteristic, such as race, age, sex, ethnicity, religion, or another protected characteristic, one must prove that it is severe or pervasive; this means that the courts do not really mind if a job’s environment is hostile in general, it needs to be really hostile and really obviously hostile. The laws are not in place to act as a general workplace rulebook to abide by, and are used mainly if widespread discrimination is happening.
There have been some cases where it was reviewed that only a couple isolated comments or maybe a couple isolated meetings of lewd behavior was not enough to prove a hostile work environment based on sexual harassment. The same has been found from pretty much every category of protected traits.
In example: isolated racist comments are rarely found to count as a hostile work environment based on race, since it is rarely considered severe or pervasive enough if it is only a few comments or remarks. This is pretty universal across the board for all protected traits, such that if an isolated bigoted remark was made regarding religion, with little else to provoke, it would be very difficult to legally pursue, since it is hardly pervasive or severe.
The courts do not make it their job to deal with simple workplace arguments, the courts believe that employees must be able to take a joke, though it is possible to successfully file a hostile work environment claim, the courts do not care if a workplace is simply a rude place to be.
What are the Proper Actions Needed if I work in a Hostile Environment?
First and foremost, file a report. It is usually necessary to follow the company’s policy regarding harassment and report to either your human resources department or to whatever party is noted in company policy regarding harassment.
It is typically required to file a report of some sort within a certain amount of time for the law to still apply and for a court to consider it. This time limit is called the statute of limitation, and the statute of limitation for 2 years, with the time starting after the employee is aware of the action that they perceive to be discriminatory based on a protected trait that they possess.
A common occurrence happens where an employee leaves a company based on perceived harassment based upon age, sex, race, ethnicity, religiosity, disability, or other protected trait, and then attempts to sue the company.
It is much more difficult to bring a suit into play once the employee has already left the company which was providing the hostile work environment based on, or perceived to be based on, discrimination. It is still possible however to claim a constructive discharge, though the standard of proof on a constructive discharge is more difficult to attain.
Helpful Steps Employers Can Take
Employers should have a handbook regarding company policy on discrimination and what is permissible in the workplace. Company’s should adopt a strong Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) policy and strictly enforce it.
Promoting an environment with open communication so that disputes get settled before they get anywhere near litigation is definitely wise. This will provide more open mindedness towards different cultures and will promote a healthier work environment. Fostering an inclusive culture in the workplace where everyone knows each other, and is fine with their differences, to maintain an environment of professionalism and respect for cultural differences.
When hiring new individuals, the employers or supervisors should keep in mind that they need to know the EEO policy for the workplace. When a new employee joins, they should have to familiarize themselves with company policy regarding what actions are permissible in the workplace.
Supervisors, managers, owners, and upper management in general should review the video detailing workplace operations yearly, so that they stay on top of the game and are able to relay the appropriate practices to any new hires. Analyze the workplace criteria annually to make certain that it follows the ever changing laws and ever changing work environment at your specific company.
Remember, the best way to not pour tons of money into litigation to settle law suits or fight law suits that are deemed potentially winnable is to foster an amiable work environment to attempt to avoid litigation as much as possible.