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Hostile Work Environment

Harassment, by itself, is not illegal. The harassment in the workplace must be based on an illegal factor.  For instance, the employer cannot harass the employee because of gender or race. An employer can harass an employee who the employer just does not like. Personality conflicts are lawful. If an employer treats an employee badly because of race, it is racial harassment. If it is because of sex or gender, it is sexual harassment, etc. But there is no law against general “harassment” or bad treatment of an employee.

Hostile Workplace Environment: Sexual Harassment In The Workplace

Hostile environment sexual harassment in the workplace is a situation in which the employer, supervisor, or co-worker does or says things that make the victim feel uncomfortable because of his or her sex. Hostile environment sexual harassment in the workplace does not need to include a demand for an exchange of sex for a job benefit. It is the creation of an uncomfortable and offensive environment.

Offensive Conduct

The conduct must be offensive. For instance, if two employees enjoy exchanging sexual jokes, it would not be sexual harassment in the workplace. If one employee repeatedly tells another employee sexual jokes that the second employee finds offensive, it is sexual harassment in the workplace. Jokes, pictures, touching, leering, unwanted requests for a date have all been found by courts to be sexual harassment. Sexual harassment in the workplace can be between people of the same sex or opposite sex. Sexual harassment in the workplace can be a woman harassing a man or a man harassing a woman.

Hostile Workplace Environment: Race, National Origin, or Ethnicity

The courts have held that if you are harassed in the work place about your race, ethnicity, or national origin you may have the right to sue your employer. Discrimination and harassment go hand in hand here. Where there is discrimination in the workplace, there is also usually harassment in the workplace.

Severe & Pervasive Harassment & Discrimination

First, the discrimination or harassment in the workplace must be severe and pervasive. An idle comment, even if offensive, is not the basis for a lawsuit. Ongoing use of the “N” word could be severe and pervasive. Having derogatory words and racial or ethnic slurs written on white boards in meeting rooms could be severe and pervasive. It requires a case by case analysis. One judge in Oregon has described this as an inverse relationship, the more severe the conduct the less pervasive (frequent) it has to be, the less severe the more pervasive.


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