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How do courts decide if a hostile work environment exists?

Last week, we discussed how employers must be careful to avoid creating a hostile work environment for any employee or worker. But if you file a lawsuit claiming a hostile work environment because of sexual harassment, what will the court look at to determine if such an environment might exist?

According to law, a hostile work environment that is based on sexual harassment includes action from one or more other individuals that is not welcome and is pervasive or severe enough to create an offensive or abusive situation. The law considers whether such conduct was physical or verbal in nature; often, it is both. The law also considers how often such conduct might occur – a single inappropriate comment doesn't make a hostile working environment.

Other factors that might be considered by the court include the relationship between the alleged victim and the harasser. Was the alleged harasser a supervisor or a co-worker? Where did the activity occur, and was it patently offensive or hostile in nature? Did the alleged harasser or harassers direct activity at more than one person?

These are only some of the questions that might be considered by courts considering hostile work environment cases. Proving such an environment existed can be difficult depending on the situation. Do you have witnesses, or is it one person's word against another?

Working with a legal professional who is well-versed in sexual harassment cases can help you understand whether your situation meets the definitions for a hostile work environment. A Sacramento lawyer can also help you build a case, including identifying evidence and witnesses that might help substantiate your claim in court.

Source: FindLaw, "Sexual Harassment at Work," accessed April 15, 2016

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