It’s hard to spend your time in an unpleasant workplace. Whether you work with people who make negative comments about co-workers, tell inappropriate jokes or keep the workplace rumor mill going at full speed, such activities make you feel uncomfortable or cause you to feel harassed, especially if you are the target of the negativity.
Despite the protections afforded by Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, workplace harassment is alive and well in Florida. Many people file lawsuits claiming that they were victims of harassment based on their race, religion, gender, age, national origin or political views, all of which are prohibited. You may be considering a harassment lawsuit yourself, or perhaps you are claiming that things are so bad at your workplace that it is a hostile work environment. But what does that mean?
While there is no precise definition of what constitutes a hostile work environment, the harassment must constitute more than a few jokes or comments that you find offensive. You must prove that the words would be offensive to any reasonable person, not just you. In addition, courts seldom consider words alone to be able to create a hostile work environment. Usually an action must accompany the words.
The one exception is the case of verbal assault. If you prove that the words resulted in your extreme embarrassment and/or humiliation at work due to their vulgarity, lewdness, etc., a jury could reasonably conclude that the person who said those words committed verbal assault. If so, that is the “action” required for hostile work environment.
If you file a hostile work environment lawsuit, you need to present compelling evidence of the following:
- The severity of the harassment
- The lengthy period of time over which it occurred
- The negative impact it had on your performance and productivity at work
Proving the presence of a hostile work environment is never easy, but if you prevail in your lawsuit you could recover damages for such things as your emotional and mental distress and any associated medical bills and/or lost wages. The jury may even award you punitive damages if your employer knew or should have known that the harassment you suffered was illegal discrimination but allowed it to go on anyhow.