What constitutes a hostile work environment?

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What constitutes a hostile work environment?

I obtained a copy of an email where my immediate supervisor (on a work computer) was having an email conversation with a higher up supervisor (at home on work email). In the email they are made derogatory comments about me. They are now aware I have the email (unknown how they know). Do I have any legal leg to stand on if they try to fire me?

Asked on August 30, 2010 under Employment Labor Law, Arizona

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

There is NO general right against a hostile work environment--basically, your coworkers, supervisor, employer, etc. can be as nasty, insulting, derogatory, etc. to you as they like. Certain specific kinds of discrimination or harassment are prohibited; e.g. no discrimination or  harassment on the basis of race, sex, religion, age over 40, or disability. But beyond those specifically protected types, there is no protection against a "hostile work environment."

However, IF the first supervisory did not merely make "opinion" statements about you (e.g. "John Doe's a real creep," or "he's the worst worker I've ever had!") but instead made provably false factual statements to the other supervisor (e.g. "John Does uses drugs"--when you don't), you may have a cause of action for defamation and should consult with an attorney to see how strong your case might be and what it might be worth.


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