Is it considered a hostile work environment if a co-worker threatens to physically assault you and your employer does nothing about it?

UPDATED: Apr 5, 2012

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Is it considered a hostile work environment if a co-worker threatens to physically assault you and your employer does nothing about it?

Asked on April 5, 2012 under Employment Labor Law, Pennsylvania


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

It is not a "hostile work environment" unless the co-worker's behavior is discrimination or harassment  aimed at you because of your membership in a specifically protected category or group, such as on account (under federal law) of  your race, sex, religion, age over 40, or disability. If the co-worker's threats are not motivated by one of these reasons, it's not a hostile work environment.

However, employers could potentially be liable under the theory of "negligent supervision" if, knowing that one worker has threatened another, they do not take action and the first worker does in fact attack the other. So you do not have a claim or legal action until or unless something happens to you--while it is foolish and irresponsible of your employer to do nothing, the law lets them be foolish and irresponsible in this way. However, if the co-worker does attack you (or steals from you, or vandalizes your property), since you have put your employer on notice of the situation, not only could you sue the worker, but you could then sue your employer as well.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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