According to the U.S. Department of Labor, a hostile workplace “can result from the unwelcome conduct of supervisors, co-workers, customers, contractors, or anyone else with whom the victim interacts on the job, and the unwelcome conduct renders the workplace atmosphere intimidating, hostile, or offensive.”
The investigation of hostile workplace claims is a type of employment law and may involve various situations, including discrimination, harassment, wrongful termination, and retaliation.
Discrimination in the Workplace
Employment discrimination can be considered a form of workplace injury. This refers to discriminatory employment practices such as bias in hiring, promotion, job assignment, termination and compensation, as well as various types of harassment. This discrimination is not limited to certain traits or characteristics.
Both federal and state laws regulate workplace discrimination so that it can vary from state to state. Federal laws, regulated by the
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), protect against most kinds of workplace discrimination.
Federal law prohibits employers from making professional decisions based on the following:
- Genetic information
- National origin
- Sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation)
It is also illegal to discriminate against a person because the person complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit.
The EEOC notes that discrimination based on race and gender are the two most commonly “reported” areas of discrimination. However, that does not necessarily mean these are the two areas most discriminated against. Despite laws and regulations protecting workers from discrimination, it is challenging to take a chance to report discrimination and jeopardize your current position with your employer. Not all employers are the same. Some will not react in the manner they are supposed to, thus making it very difficult for the victims of discrimination to take that risk.
Closely related to the issue of discrimination is retaliation. Retaliation may occur in the workplace when an employer punishes an employee for an action that is permitted by law, but which the employer wants to discourage. For example, an employer may retaliate against an employee who makes harassment or discrimination complaints, who reports fraud or other wrongdoing in the workplace, or who participates in an investigation within the workplace. Some employers also retaliate against employees who report workplace injuries to state or federal authorities.
As mentioned earlier, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), it is illegal to discriminate against a person because the person complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit.
Retaliation may come in many different forms, from outright firing, to demotions, being denied a promotion or a pay raise, or being reassigned to a less desirable job or shift. Some retaliation is subtle, but if it negatively affects an employee and deters him from taking action, it can be illegal.
There are federal and state laws in place that protect employees from illegal retaliation in the workplace. This is true even if the action for which the employee was targeted turns out to be unfounded, as long as the claim or action was made in good faith. Employees in certain cases are also protected by whistleblower laws.
It is not uncommon for an employee to believe they were wrongfully fired, especially if it seems to have been done without a just cause. Still, U.S. employment laws are very specific about what constitutes wrongful termination.
Wrongful termination occurs when an employee is fired for an illegal reason, such as illegal discrimination or a breach of contract. Federal employment law provides that no employee can be fired based on race, gender, ethnic background, religion, or disability.
An employee may also have a wrongful termination case if he or she was fired for lodging a legal complaint against the employer or making whistleblower allegations exposing the employer’s wrongdoing. Both these examples are forms of retaliation, and both are illegal.