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What constitutes as a hostile work environment?

Workplace harassment still runs rampant throughout the state of Missouri. Individuals employed by the Missouri Department of Corrections recently received awards of $4 million for suffering from harassment or fear or retaliation while working for the organization. 

The term "hostile work environment" may seem like an open-ended concept. What constitutes a hostile work environment, and how do people know when they are in one? Essentially, it involves a workplace where a worker experienced discrimination based on his or her age, race, gender, national origin, sexual orientation or another protected factor. It is vital to understand the signs of a hostile work environment and how to prove such an environment in court.

What behavior creates a hostile work environment?

For a hostile work environment to form, there has to be a consistent pattern of discrimination and abuse. There are several examples of the type of behavior that would create such an environment:

  • Unwanted or inappropriate sexual overtures
  • Aggressive physical conduct or inappropriate touching
  • Showcasing racially insensitive or sexually suggestive pictures
  • Insensitive or offensive jokes directed toward a person's race, gender, disability or age
  • Excessively chronic discussion of sexual activities at work

A single, isolated incident will typically not be enough to prove a hostile work environment. However, there is other evidence victims could accumulate to prove a case in court.

How do you prove this in court?

After undergoing this harassment, the person should keep a record of it. Keeping any evidence from the harassment will help immensely in court. Additionally, the person should file a complaint with the company's HR department. To prove a hostile work environment, you generally need to file complaints over a significant amount of time with HR with nothing occurring to stop the behavior. With a record of complaints as well as your personal journal detailing the abuse, you can build a strong case in court to prove how much you suffered while working. 

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