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By Valerie Kiffin Lewis, Esquire
Many employees are misinformed when it comes to what it means to be exposed to a hostile work environment. Often times they mistakenly believe that it is simply when a supervisor harasses them or allows fellow co-workers to do the same. It is this false belief that sometimes causes employees to jeopardize their employment relationship by filing a charge or a claim of employment discrimination against their employer that -quite frankly- has no merit- at least not one that is recognized as being meritorious under the law.
A hostile work environment (also referred to as "HWE") is a legal term of art used to describe a work environment that is not only plagued with unwelcome harassment, but also tied to a protected category, i.e.; one's race, color, sex, national origin, disability, etc. It is not when your supervisor happens to yell at you on occasion for coming to work late, nor is it when you are occasionally the victim of office jokes and banter, and your supervisor chooses to do nothing about it. If the reason, for example, is simply because your supervisor does not like you, or thinks that you are rude, this is insufficient to establish a claim for HWE. Why? Because it is not tied to a protected category. Rudeness is not a protected category. Additionally, the law requires the harassment be both severe and pervasive. This requirement is often the death knell of most HWE claims.
When deciding whether to file a complaint against your employer due to harassment, ask yourself this question: Am I being harassed because I am, for example, a woman, or a member of any other protected category? Remember, the reason for the harassment must be tied to a protected category. When in doubt it may be wise to consult with an employment lawyer before filing a charge of discrimination against your current employer. Otherwise, it may literally cost you your job! For additional information or to schedule a legal consultation with Valerie Kiffin Lewis, Esquire, please call (954) 252-3400 or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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