Nobody should ever feel uncomfortable at work, but many employees dread going to work due to a hostile work environment. A hostile work environment occurs when one or more individuals behave in a manner that makes it difficult for other employees to work or excel at their jobs. The terms "hostile work environment" and "harassment" can be used interchangeably. That's because the majority of workplace harassment and discrimination cases tend to happen in hostile work environments.
Harassment cases are often difficult to prove without solid evidence. In order to have a strong workplace harassment case, the harassment must have been:
- Serious and pervasive
- Committed in a way that any reasonable person would find abusive
It's important to understand that not all forms of workplace harassment are illegal.
Harassment is illegal if it is based on a protected characteristic, such as race, age, gender, disability, pregnancy, ethnicity, religion, creed, sexual preference, or genetic information. Additionally, retaliation against an employee for filing a complaint of unlawful discrimination and/or harassment is illegal.
What is an example of unlawful workplace discrimination and harassment?
Let's say you're a female employee and you have been with the same employer for several years. You have a history of outstanding performance and have received positive reviews. Then, your company hires a new supervisor to oversee your department. He consistently makes derogatory comments about pregnant women and argues that they should not be in the workplace.
A few months later, you become pregnant. Your supervisor begins excluding you from meetings, micromanaging your tasks and writing you up for petty things. Suddenly, you're given deadlines and goals that are impossible to meet. Your supervisor later terminates your position for failing to meet them.
Your supervisor may not cite your pregnancy as a basis for terminating your position. Yet, it's evident from his prior behavior that he targeted you. Since Ohio is an "at-will employment" state, your supervisor doesn't have to state the real reason for your termination. If you can prove that you were discriminated against or terminated for asserting your rights, however, then you likely have a strong basis for a claim against your employer. Situations like this can apply to any employee under a protected characteristic.
What to do if you believe you have been harassed, discriminated against at work
Evidence is everything when building a case against your employer. Be sure to log each incident of harassment or discrimination. Describe it in detail and note the time, date and location where it occurred. If possible, you should also save all emails and office memos. If you notice that your work or workstation has been tampered with, be sure to take pictures or screenshots and save them as evidence. That's as long as your employer does not have a policy against taking pictures in the workplace.
Start by reporting the incidents to your human resources (HR) department. Be sure to refer to any company policies regarding workplace discrimination and harassment and present the evidence you have gathered. Submit the report to HR in writing and keep a dated copy for yourself. This will create a record of the complaint.
If the issue isn't resolved or you were terminated from your job, reach out to an attorney who can investigate. This includes interviewing witnesses and speaking to your company's HR department. The issue may also be resolved without your case going to trial. The Ohio attorneys at Nilges Draher LLC have a proven track record of fighting for victims of illegal harassment and discrimination. We can help you get compensated for your losses.