Hostile Work Environment No Company is Too Big to Play Fair.

Minneapolis Hostile Work Environment Attorneys

What Is Considered a Hostile Work Environment?

Both federal law and the Minnesota Human Rights Act prohibit harassment or a hostile work environment based on an employee’s membership in a protected class (e.g., race, sex, gender, religion, disability, pregnancy status, or national origin). According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a hostile work environment occurs when harassment establishes a work environment that a reasonable person would view as intimidating, hostile, or offensive. Petty slights, annoyances, and isolated incidents are not illegal unless the isolated incident is especially hostile.

Harassing behavior can include physical conduct, as well as verbal conduct like racist epithets, slurs, or derogatory comments. The conduct is considered harassment if it communicates an offensive or abusive message to the harassed employee because of their race, sex, gender, religion, disability, pregnancy status, or national origin. The harassing conduct must also be so severe or pervasive that it creates an intolerable work environment for the harassed employee.

Here are some common examples of behaviors or situations that can contribute to a hostile work environment:

  • Discrimination: This can include discrimination based on a protected characteristic. Examples include making derogatory remarks, denying opportunities for advancement based on these characteristics, or creating policies that disproportionately affect certain groups.
  • Harassment: This involves unwelcome or offensive behavior that creates a hostile or intimidating work environment. This can include verbal, physical, or visual harassment such as insults, offensive jokes, gestures, or images.
  • Bullying: Persistent and abusive behavior towards colleagues, such as belittling, threatening, or humiliating them, can contribute to a hostile work environment.
  • Sexual Harassment: Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature can create a hostile work environment. This can include inappropriate comments, gestures, or displays of sexually explicit material.
  • Retaliation: Punishing or treating employees adversely because they reported harassment or discrimination, participated in an investigation, or engaged in other protected activities is illegal and contributes to a hostile work environment.
  • Hostile Communication: This includes yelling, insults, or aggressive language directed at employees. It can also involve excessively criticizing or undermining employees in front of their peers.
  • Exclusion or Isolation: Deliberately excluding certain employees from meetings, social events, or other work-related activities based on discriminatory reasons can contribute to a hostile work environment.
  • Failure to Address Complaints: When management fails to address complaints of harassment, discrimination, or other inappropriate behavior effectively, it can perpetuate a hostile work environment by signaling that such behavior is tolerated.
  • Unreasonable Work Demands: Excessive workloads, unrealistic deadlines, or micromanagement can create stress and tension in the workplace, contributing to a hostile environment.
  • Cultural Insensitivity: Ignoring or dismissing cultural differences or engaging in behaviors that offend or alienate individuals from different backgrounds can create a hostile work environment.

What Laws Protect Me from a Hostile Work Environment?

Laws protecting against hostile work environments primarily fall under the umbrella of employment discrimination laws. In the United States, the primary federal law addressing hostile work environments is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII prohibits discrimination in employment based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces Title VII and investigates claims of workplace discrimination.

Specifically, Title VII addresses hostile work environments by prohibiting harassment based on the protected characteristics mentioned above. Hostile work environment harassment occurs when unwelcome conduct based on a protected characteristic becomes severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.

Other federal laws that protect against hostile work environments include:

  • The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA): Prohibits discrimination against individuals who are 40 years of age or older.
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): Prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities in all aspects of employment.
  • The Pregnancy Discrimination Act: Amends Title VII to prohibit discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.
  • The Civil Rights Act of 1991: Provides additional protections against workplace discrimination and allows for the recovery of compensatory and punitive damages in cases of intentional discrimination.

In addition to federal laws, Minnesota has its own laws that protect against hostile work environments and workplace discrimination. These laws are enforced by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights (MDHR).

Here are several laws in Minnesota that address hostile work environments:

  • Prohibition of Discrimination and Harassment: The MHRA prohibits discrimination based on several protected characteristics, including race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, familial status, disability, age, sexual orientation, and status with regard to public assistance or local human rights commission activity. Discrimination can take the form of harassment when it creates a hostile work environment.
  • Hostile Work Environment: Under the MHRA, a hostile work environment occurs when unwelcome conduct based on a protected characteristic becomes severe or pervasive enough to interfere with an individual's work performance or create an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment. This can include verbal or physical conduct, derogatory comments, jokes, insults, or other offensive behavior related to a protected characteristic.
  • Employer Responsibilities: Employers in Minnesota have a responsibility to prevent and address hostile work environments. They are required to take appropriate steps to investigate complaints of discrimination or harassment, and to take prompt and effective action to address any such behavior. Employers should have policies and procedures in place for reporting and addressing discrimination and harassment in the workplace.
  • Retaliation Protections: The MHRA also prohibits retaliation against individuals who oppose discriminatory practices, file complaints, or participate in investigations related to discrimination or harassment. This means that employers cannot take adverse actions against employees for engaging in protected activities under the MHRA.

Employees who believe they have been subjected to a hostile work environment in violation of the MHRA have the right to file a complaint with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights (MDHR). The MDHR investigates complaints of discrimination and harassment and may take enforcement action against employers found to be in violation of the law.

In addition to the MHRA, other state laws, such as the Minnesota Whistleblower Act, may also provide protections for employees who report unlawful conduct, including harassment or discrimination in the workplace.

What Should I Do If My Work Environment Is Hostile?

If you are a victim of workplace harassment, you should ask the offender to stop, and then notify your employer about the harassment. If you inform your employer that you are being harassed due to their protected status, they must take action immediately to put an end to the conduct. Employment manuals or handbooks often provide employees with companies’ policies and procedures for addressing workplace harassment.

Nichols Kaster, PLLP can help guide you through the often-complicated process of pursuing a claim if your employer permits behavior and conduct that amounts to a hostile work environment. Our talented and experienced attorneys are committed to fighting for the justice our clients deserve.

If you are dealing with a stressful and hostile situation at work, please don’t hesitate to contact our legal team. Call (877) 344-4628 or fill out our online form to set up a free case consultation.

  • Nichols Kaster obtained a successful jury verdict for a BNSF railroad employee on a Federal Railroad Safety Act retaliation claim.

  • Nichols Kaster obtained a jury verdict for a task force Special Agent in South Dakota on sexual harassment and retaliation claims.

  • Nichols Kaster confirmed the standard protecting workers from retaliation for verbally reporting to employer violation of wage and hour law in front of the Supreme Court.

  • Nichols Kaster obtained the second-largest settlement ever paid by the City of Saint Paul in an employment suit.

  • Nichols Kaster obtained a jury verdict for a St. Jude medical device sales representative on a retaliation claim and defeated the company’s counterclaim for violation of a non-compete agreement.

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