One of the most frequent requests I receive as an employment attorney is advice for handling a hostile work environment. Hostile work environments are common and very often found in smaller and medium-sized businesses. People who are forced to work in environments replete with contention usually experience significant physical and mental health complications. And nobody likes dreading work daily.
These requests often frustrate me because the present state of the law often provides no remedy to those working in contentious workplaces. In fact, no law has been written to prohibit workplace bullying and general harassment. Contrary to what most people have been led to believe, unless the employee is a union member, or has an employment contract providing further protection, hostile work environments are only illegal if the hostility is generated because of some type of animus towards a protected characteristic such as race, religion, national origin, gender, pregnancy, disability, sexual preference, or religion. Many of my clients have heard me say in consultations that it simply isn’t against the law for your boss to be a jerk.
But this doesn’t mean that there isn’t anything that can be done if you find yourself working in a hostile environment. Review the company’s policies and procedures and file complaints whenever you feel like you are unfairly being treated with hostility. If you are experiencing any physical or mental complications because of the hostile work environment you should seek treatment from a physician and report the medical conditions to your employer. It’s possible that you qualify for accommodation under the American’s with Disabilities Act which will fix the problem.
Also, be particularly observant of whether you are being singled out and treated with hostility when others are not. Current forms of discrimination are typically not readily observable. If you are being treated differently, ask yourself what makes you different than people who are treated more favorably. If only certain groups of people are treated with hostility, consider carefully what makes one group different from another. Keep a journal of events which would tend to show that some workers are given preferential treatment and talk to an employment lawyer about them. It’s likely that discriminatory animus is fueling the hostility. And if that’s the case, an employment lawyer can help.
Mostly, be confident in yourself and your abilities. You don’t have to work somewhere that your talents and efforts are met with hostility. You should only work for people who treat you with dignity and respect. There are a lot of good employers looking for hard working talented people. Most employees have far more bargaining power than they realize. Use this to your advantage and don’t hesitate to contact an employment lawyer to find out whether your hostile workplace is illegal. While the answer won’t always be yes, it’s always worth a call to find out.
About the Author
Jason Haymore is Utah’s leading employment law attorney
Jason Haymore is the head of the Employment Law division of Pearson Butler. He graduated from Indiana University School of Law – Indianapolis in 2010. During law school, Jason clerked for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the National Labor Relations Board, and Indiana’s largest employment law firm. After law school, Jason started a successful employment law practice which rapidly grew and has now become the foundation for the employment law division of Pearson Butler.
Jason has a strong reputation for being well versed in employment law and for finding resolutions to complicated employment matters. He is a dedicated and compassionate advocate and was named as one of Utah’s Top 40 under 40 civil litigators by the National Trial Lawyers Association. He has also been given an award by the American Institute of Legal Counsel as one of the 10 best attorneys in Utah for client satisfaction in the area of labor and employment law.
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