Ideally each of us would wake up every day and enjoy going to work. We would long for the camaraderie of our co-workers and be encouraged by the support of our supervisors. Unfortunately, many people work in, or have worked in, an unpleasant environment. From irritating co-workers and overly demanding supervisors who appear to be nitpicking and trying to manage you out, to “locker-room” type environments where you may but subjected to crass language and teasing, the behavior of those around us greatly affects our jobs. Often these outside occurrences amount to mere annoyances or inconveniences but sometimes they can become so pervasive that you don’t know what you are going to do; you just want to throw up your hands and quit. So what are your options?
Before we talk about legal options, the most important thing to remember is that your decision impacts your life and the lives of those around you. The reality is that most of us have responsibilities, be it family, a mortgage, car note or any of the multitude of bills that comes with adulthood. Unless you have money saved to meet your obligations it may not make sense to simply resign out of frustration until you have another job lined up. Additionally in Florida, as in other states, you may not be eligible for unemployment benefits if you voluntarily resign from your job.
If resigning is not an option, many people look to the law to see if they have any recourse. The question that must be answered is, “is the harassment that I’m receiving at work illegal?” That answer depends on the facts your particular case. Only harassment based on certain protected classifications is prohibited. Federal law prohibits harassment based on the following grounds: race, color, religion, gender/sex, age, disability, national origin, ethnicity, citizenship status, genetic information, military status, qualified medical leave, retaliation for reporting discrimination, exercising rights protected by federal law, and bankruptcy filing. Additionally, many state and local jurisdictions have their own equal employment opportunity laws that may protect additional categories of employees. Florida Law also makes harassment on the basis of pregnancy illegal.
Legally speaking, a hostile work environment exists where an employee’s workplace is so permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and/or insult that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the terms and conditions of the employee’s employment and create an abusive working environment. However, the Supreme Court has made it clear that the laws against discrimination are not meant to be a “general civility code for the American workplace.” All verbal or physical harassment in the workplace is not prohibited. Actions such as simple teasing, offhand comments, and isolated incidents (unless extremely serious) will not amount to” a hostile work environment. Not everything that makes an employee unhappy would necessarily be part of a hostile work environment claim. If the harassment faced is not based on one of a prohibited classification, and is not sufficiently severe or pervasive to have altered the conditions of employment and created an abusive working environment, then legally there would not be a hostile work environment. There is a difference between unfair behavior and illegal behavior.
If you are in the Broward, Palm Beach or Miami-Dade Counties and feel that you have been subjected to a hostile work environment, the Law Office of Brandon J. Gibson, PLLC is here to help, contact us today to schedule a consultation. We will hear the details of your claim, determine what options you have under applicable laws, and help you pursue your case.