Is an employer liable for hostile work environment discrimination and harassment?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 14, 2021

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Hostile work environment discrimination occurs when your work environment is made unpleasant on the basis of your protected status. If you are experiencing harassment from co-workers or otherwise being made to feel uncomfortable (such as by constantly hearing sexually inappropriate jokes or jokes about your religion for example) this may be an example of hostile environment discrimination. Whether or not an employer is going to be liable for hostile work environment discrimination or harassment depends upon the situation and the employer’s culpability.

If an employer is aware that a hostile work environment has been created and takes no action to correct the problem, then the employer can be held liable for the discrimination and harassment. However, under federal law, if the employer is not made aware of the situation, the employer will likely not be held responsible for this type of harassment. This is especially true if the employer has a program in place that allows employees to report discrimination or related problems and the employee who is being discriminated against does not take advantage of the program.

Employees considering suing for hostile work environment discrimination or harassment should keep careful documentation of any instance of harassment. A diary with the dates, times, and a detailed description of the event is helpful. Further, if you intend to sue and hold the employer responsible, it’s also imperative to keep a detailed record of any attempts to notify the employer of the problem, along with details about whatever response (or non-response) you received from your employer.

Contacting an attorney as early as you can in the process can go a long way toward ensuring that you are able to get the relief you need from your hostile work environment claim, as your lawyer can assist you in gathering any and all evidence of discrimination or harassment that may be required.

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