Workplace bullying and a hostile work environment are very similar. Workplace bullies inflict mental and psychological harm on their targets, usually through intimidation, humiliation, or threats. As damaging as workplace bullying is, it is not legally actionable. However, sometimes, such a situation crosses a line to where it can be defined as a hostile work environment. This is prohibited by law and can be prosecuted. Legally speaking, the difference between a hostile work environment and workplace bullying is that a worker in a hostile work environment can bring a claim against their employer, whereas a worker suffering from workplace bullying cannot.

What Defines a Hostile Work Environment?

Both federal and state laws prohibit discrimination and harassment against certain groups of people, known as protected classes. Under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD), employers must provide a workplace free of discrimination and harassment against a person’s real or perceived race, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, disability, and other protected characteristics. Factors that determine if a work environment is hostile include the frequency and severity of the discriminatory conduct, whether it is physically threatening or humiliating, and whether it unreasonably interferes with the employee’s ability to do their job.

In other words, if workplace bullying is directed at an employee because of their race, sex, disability, age, or other protected characteristic, they may have a case for a hostile work environment.

Documenting a Hostile Work Environment

While workplace bullying is relatively common, the Workplace Bullying Institute estimates that only 20 percent of all cases qualify legally as a hostile work environment. The burden of proof lies with the employee bringing the complaint, so if you think you are being unfairly discriminated against or harassed at work, you must keep careful records and be prepared to have witnesses corroborate your accounts.

Document each incident of harassment by noting the day, time, and names of any witnesses present. You must be able to show that the harassment occurred regularly, that it was severe, and that it affected your work performance. One-off comments do not usually qualify as a hostile work environment. The behavior must constitute a physical threat or humiliation, such as physical touching.

Bring your documented evidence to the HR department at your place of employment to begin a complaint. Your employer should then take steps to investigate and correct the behavior. An employer who knew or should have reasonably known about a hostile work environment but failed to correct it is liable for any harassment that happened. Be aware that retaliating against an employee who brings a complaint is against the law.

Hostile work environment cases are difficult to prove but, if successful, can result in significant settlements. Consult with an experienced lawyer to determine your best legal path for compensation.

Marlton Employment Lawyers at Burnham Douglass Fight for Workers’ Rights

Everyone has the right to a safe workplace. You may be eligible for compensation if you have experienced a hostile work environment. Our experienced Marlton employment lawyers at Burnham Douglass can investigate your case and fight to protect your rights. Call 856-751-5505 or contact us online today to schedule a free consultation. Located in Marlton and Northfield, New Jersey, we serve clients in South Jersey, including Evesham Township, Cherry Hill, Camden County, Burlington County, Northfield, and Atlantic City.