Hostile environment

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Updated: 4/13/2007 3:36 pm
Both federal and state civil rights laws afford employees the right to work in an environment free from hostility. This means you have the right not to be subjected to any type of discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, or sexual harassment that's severe and pervasive enough to affect your employment conditions and create an intimidating or offensive work climate. Regardless of whether you suffer serious psychological injury, you generally have the right to take legal action against your employer if you've been subjected to a hostile work environment. Employers can be held liable if they knew, or should have known, about the inappropriate behavior in the workplace and did nothing to stop it. Though courts generally handle hostile environment claims on a case-by-case basis, many examine particular factors to decide if the challenged conduct created a hostile work environment, including frequency and severity of the behavior and whether physically threatening behavior occurred. Employers can take preventive steps to avoid circumstances that could turn into an offensive work atmosphere by enforcing a hostile environment policy that displays zero tolerance for such potentially offensive conduct as off-color jokes, lewd behavior, or excessive profanity. Employers should also take effective disciplinary steps when needed and encourage victims to report their complaints.

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