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

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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

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 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.


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