When does an employee have a case for discrimination, sexual harassment or creating a hostile work environment?

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When does an employee have a case for discrimination, sexual harassment or creating a hostile work environment?

Today as I was working I spoke with a co-worker about somethings going on in my life. I explained about some troubles my girlfriend was having and while explaining this one of the owners of my company walked in and remarked, “Well now that she doesn’t have to worry about that she can just start sucking [co-workers name’s] balls”. I was obviously highly upset about this but does it actually constitute anything that should be acted on? This boss has been known to make many comments like this and at the time its just starting to go too far.

Asked on November 29, 2011 under Employment Labor Law, North Carolina

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

Sexual harassment or discrimination would be against a person because of his or her sex/gender--so, for example, if the comment you describe was made to your girlfriend, not to you, that could potentially constitute sexual harassment. (Note: this is presuming you are male; if you are female, then it may be harassment for the comment to be made to you.) However, making an inappropriate comment about women or a particular woman to a male would not be considered sexual harassment.

There is no general rule prohibiting a workplace from being "hostile"--they can be incredibly hostile, in fact. All that is prohibited is certain defined forms of discrimination or harassment: e.g. against a person due to his/her sex, race, religion, age over 40, or disability. Apart from these specific protections, however, there is no real limit on how unpleasant bosses or workplaces can be, and no action you can take.


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