Workplace discrimination is illegal when it is based on the protected characteristics of the workers. Despite anti-discrimination laws, workplace discrimination is fairly common. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the agency received 76,418 discrimination charges during the fiscal year of 2018. The various types of prohibited discrimination can result in the creation of hostile work environments. Workplace discrimination is immoral, unprofessional, and results in a nonproductive environment. People who have been the victims of illegal workplace discrimination might benefit from talking to the attorneys at Swartz Swidler.
Protected characteristics and discrimination
Under multiple state and federal laws, employers are prohibited from discriminating against their workers based on protected characteristics. Some of the protected characteristics include the following:
Some states include additional categories beyond the federally protected characteristics. In New Jersey, the Law Against Discrimination additionally forbids discrimination based on a worker’s sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, and ancestry.
Hostile work environments
Not every workplace environment that is uncomfortable because of the actions of employers will qualify as hostile work environments under the anti-discrimination laws. To be considered as a hostile work environment, several criteria must be met to support a harassment or discrimination claim. The harassment must be pervasive enough to make it impossible for the worker to be able to perform the functions of his or her job. Generally, single incidents will not qualify as a hostile work environment.
What the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission does
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is the federal agency that is tasked with enforcing the anti-discrimination laws in private and public workplaces. The EEOC investigates charges of discrimination and harassment that are filed with it to determine whether the employers have violated the law. The agency holds hearings, promulgates regulations interpreting the laws, and litigates discrimination charges, among other activities.
The EEOC primarily operates at the federal level and works to enforce anti-discrimination laws that have been enacted by the federal government. Some of the laws that the EEOC enforces include the following:
- Pregnancy Discrimination Act
- Equal Pay Act
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
- Americans with Disabilities Act
- Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act
- Age Discrimination in Employment Act
How is a hostile work environment identified?
Even though many employees experience discomfort or hostility at work, this does not mean that their situations meet the EEOC’s definition of a hostile work environment. Isolated events, petty slights, and annoyances normally will not constitute a hostile work environment. To be considered a hostile work environment, the actions will either need to be extreme or pervasive with continuing policies and behaviors that interfere with a worker’s ability to perform the essential tasks of their jobs.
For example, if a Peruvian worker’s coworker assumed that he or she was Mexican because of the color of the person’s skin and asked him or her to recommend the best Mexican restaurant in the area, the worker might be annoyed. However, that would not be illegal if it was isolated and stopped once the worker corrected the coworker.
However, if the Peruvian worker had to remind his or her coworker repeatedly that he or she was not Mexican, and the coworker began telling racist jokes about people with Mexican heritage or using racial epithets against the Peruvian worker, the workplace would likelier be deemed to be a hostile work environment. Workplace discrimination and hostility
Since there isn’t an exact formula that is used to determine what constitutes a hostile work environment, it can be difficult to figure out whether a person’s workplace environment has become sufficiently hostile to be illegal. This determination is highly fact-specific. Several factors are considered to determine whether a hostile work environment has been created.
1. The hostile conduct must be discriminatory.
To qualify under the anti-discrimination laws for enforcement by the EEOC, the hostile conduct must have a discriminatory purpose and be directed against a protected group. This means that the conduct must target an employee’s protected characteristic negatively.
2. The hostile conduct must be pervasive.
Isolated instances of hostile behavior can be difficult, but they frequently can be resolved through effective policy and supervision. To amount to a hostile work environment, there normally will need to be proof that the conduct is pervasive enough to disrupt a reasonable worker’s ability to perform the tasks of his or her job.
3. The hostile conduct must be unwelcome.
Some people are not offended by behaviors that many others would consider to be discriminatory and hostile. In situations in which hostile behavior is welcomed, the environment will not be considered to be hostile.
4. The hostile conduct must be intense.
While hostile behavior can be subjective to analyze, certain behaviors are more recognizably intense. Some types of qualifying hostile behaviors might include the following:
- Behaviors that cause physical discomfort or pain
- Slurs, racial epithets, curses, and other language directed towards a protected group
- Behaviors that result in adverse employment actions
- Behaviors that disrupt the victim’s ability to perform the tasks of his or her job
Get help from the experienced employment law attorneys at Swartz Swidler
If you think that you have suffered unlawful discrimination at work because of your protected characteristics, you should speak to the experienced legal team at Swartz Swidler. Our attorneys are dedicated to protecting workers who are the victims of discrimination. We can analyze the facts of what happened in your case and provide you with an honest assessment of the merits of your potential claim. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation by submitting your information on our contact form or by calling us at 856.685.7420.