What is a Hostile Work Environment?
Understanding When a "Hostile Work Environment" is Unlawful
A workplace that feels hostile is something we have all probably experienced at one time or another. A true "hostile work environment" under the law, however, has a narrower meaning.
An environment that is hostile due to harassment targeted at someone due to their race, age, disability, or other protected class, is simply another form of discrimination.
A work environment that is hostile due to pervasive sexual harassment is both a form of discrimination and a separate claim under the sexual harassment laws.
In addition to being unlawfully motivated, the behavior has to be both offensive and pervasive to constitute a "hostile work environment" under the law. A stray remark by a co-worker is likely not enough. A repeated practice of sharing obscene or derogatory images in the workplace, or of racial epithets, most likely is.
Most situations fall somewhere in the middle. If you believe you are experiencing discriminatory harassment at work, you should consult with an employment lawyer to understand whether it is legally actionable.
Learn more here about sexual harassment in Massachusetts.
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