10 Steps to take if you have a Hostile Work Environment in New York

A hostile work environment is discriminatory harassment in the workplace that is prohibited under federal, New York State, and local laws.

A hostile work environment is discriminatory harassment in the workplace that is prohibited under federal, New York State, and local laws.

This may include unwelcome conduct based on religion, race, age, color, national origin, sex, pregnancy, ethnicity, disability or genetic information.

Hostile work environment claims are typically based on a series of acts that together negatively impact an employee’s work conditions. An isolated incident, unless very serious, rarely establishes a hostile work environment.

Here are 10 steps to take when encountering a hostile work environment:

  1. Do not ignore the harassment with the hope that it will end. This is a time-sensitive matter and needs to be quickly addressed. New York State, New York City, the Federal Government, and various counties have specific time limits as to when you can file a lawsuit or a complaint.
  2. Immediately start collecting evidence that shows you are working in a hostile work environmentYou need to prove that the conduct is severe and pervasive, and that there have been multiple incidents. 
  3. Take notes about each incident as soon as it happens.  Document the encounter while it is still fresh in your head.  Remember to include the date, time, and the names of everyone involved, including any witnesses to the inappropriate conduct.   You may also want to ask any witnesses to document the events. 
  4. Make copies of any physical evidence, such as texts, pictures, notes or emails.  If someone writes something offensive, take a picture of itKeep your notes and any other evidence secure, ideally at home or at an offsite location. 
  5. Review your employee handbook, and any policies, procedures or training material regarding workplace discrimination.  It is important to determine if there is a complaint or reporting process in place.  Carefully following those procedures.   Keep a copy of all written complaints, and maintain notes regarding any complaints made over the phone or in person. 
  6. Document any impact that this hostile environment is having on your physical and mental health, as well as your job performanceKeep detailed medical records that show you sought medical and/or mental health assistance after the harassment occurred. 
  7. Report your concerns to your company’s Human Resources Department.  Make it clear to them that the hostile conduct is unwelcome. Record the day and time that you advised the HR Department of the situation, who you spoke with, whether it was verbal or via email, and what the next steps in the process areRequest a copy of your Complaint from HR. 
  8. Follow up with the Human Resources Department. If your claim is properly handled, they will conduct an internal investigation including interviews with relevant parties and potential witnesses.  HR will provide you with their investigation results, and advise you whether any corrective action or disciplinary conduct resulted from the investigation. 
  9. Do not quit or resign from your position until you have followed your company’s complaint reporting process.  It is recommended that you do not take any steps that could potentially jeopardize any relief that you may be entitled to.  Employers who opt not to investigate, or who do not have a complaint policy, are ones who are likely to be subject to hostile work environment claims. 
  10. Contact an employment law attorney.  If you are being subjected to a hostile work environment, consult an attorney as soon as possible. 

Wolfson and Klein-Wolfson, PLLC. is a Syosset (Long Island) based law firm with experienced employment law attorneys that can help you understand your rights when dealing with discrimination, and advise you of legal options for filing a complaint or lawsuit.  Kindly contact us for a free consultation to discuss your specific circumstances.   

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