One of the most common laments we hear is a "I work in a hostile work environment!" Often, the employee feels that he/she is being treated unfairly or differently than other employees. However, not every unpleasant work situation is illegal.
There is a big difference between a lawful hostile work environment and an unlawful hostile work environment! Since nearly every state in America is an "employment at will" state, the first thing you need to know is that you can be fired for any reason, unless it is either an illegal discriminatory reason (i.e. you are fired for something beyond your control such as your age, race, sex, national origin, handicap, etc.) or a retaliatory reason (i.e. you are fired because you had complained about being treated in an illegal discriminatory fashion or because you engaged in some other legally protected action (i.e. complained about sexual harassment, filed a workers' compensation claim, sought Family and Medical Leave, sought overtime to which you believed you were entitled, took jury duty, etc.)
Unfortunately, there is no legal protection if you are fired because of a personality conflict, or because management simply prefers a co-employee more than you, or because your boss does not like your shoes. These things may be unfair, they may be morally and ethically repugnant, but they are not illegal.
So what is a"hostile work environment" as that term is used in legal circles? It describes a work environment that promotes and/or unreasonably permits discrimination against a particular employee or class of employees because of his/her/their age, race, sex, national origin, disability, religion, etc.
Common examples of a hostile work environment would be where the employer permits the pervasive use of language or non-verbal expression that is hostile to persons of certain protected classifications. Such conduct often forms the basis for a claim of Sexual Harassment or Title VII Discrimination.
Another example of actionable misconduct is where the employer engages in Retaliation after after an employee registers a complaint to management or to a state or federal authority concerning any state or federal employment law, such as those laws making sexual harassment illegal, or those relating to as Overtime claims, Discrimination, the Equal Pay Act, the Americans With Disabilities Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, Sarbanes-Oxley , etc.
NOTE: See Horrible Bosses: Boss Tells Woman to Forget About Daughter at Work "Because She's Dead." Does such a callous statement give rise to a hostile work environment claim?
Do you work in Malvern, Plymouth Meeting, Blue Bell, Lansdale, Media, Doylestown, Exton, Downingtown, Newtown Square, Philadelphia or surrounding communities? Do you believe you are being discriminated against, treated unfairly, being subjected to a hostile work environment? We help people in Southeastern Pennsylvania with such situations everyday. Sometimes we help them keep their jobs. Sometimes we help them get freed of a terrible work situation and get them on unemployment. Sometimes, we sue their employers for illegal work practices.