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Do you work in a hostile work environment?

If you dread going to your Georgia job each day because your workplace seems to be full of strife and negative employee-to-employee relationships, your workplace may constitute a hostile work environment. While “hostile work environment” has no one-size-fits-all definition, it represents one or more forms of harassment that may give you grounds for a lawsuit against your employer.

Given the lack of a precise definition of hostile work environment, judges and juries look to the circumstances surrounding your alleged harassment, including the following factors:

  • What kind of harassment tactics did your co-worker use?
  • How long did this harassment continue?
  • How intense was it?
  • To what extent did it negatively affect your productivity and performance?

Words and actions

You generally cannot prove hostile work environment if your co-worker harassed you with words only. For instance, constantly telling dirty jokes does not rise to the level of hostile work environment, even if you repeatedly tell the jokester to stop doing it. Nor does making snide remarks about your appearance, your work ethic, etc. Your co-worker usually must accompany his or her words with some type of action, such as inappropriately touching you.

There is, however, one exception to this general rule. If the words your co-worker said to you were so outrageous, filthy, demeaning and offensive that they caused you to suffer embarrassment or humiliation at work, a judge and/or jury could well conclude that your co-worker perpetrated a verbal assault against you. If so, this is an “act” that qualifies as a hostile work environment.

No one expects his or her workplace to be a joyful environment each and every hour of each and every day. Nevertheless, neither should it be, nor does the law allow it to be, a place where one or more of your co-workers subject you to a continual barrage of insults and other offensive comments and/or actions.

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