As a Colorado employer in you must be aware of hostile work environment law and develop the requisite policies that lower the impact of any EEOC investigations. Always evaluate your company’s work environment at least on an annual basis. Failure to do so could trigger an EEOC investigation and ultimately an expensive lawsuit.
What Does Hostile Work Environment Mean?
A hostile work environment means that your company may have employees that experience unwelcome comments or conduct based on gender, race, nationality, religion, disability, sexual orientation, age or other legal protections that somehow unreasonably interfere with the employee’s work performance or develop an intimidating or abusive work environment. The key step to prevention is to develop a sound hostile work environment policy
Meeting the EEOC hostile work environment definition in Colorado can exist when your employee experiences workplace harassment and is in fear of coming to work due to offensive conduct from a specific actor – generally hostile work environment by supervisors.
A hostile work environment can also occur when someone on your management team creates a situation or atmosphere that makes your employee resign. This can be construed as retaliation.
Employers in Colorado and other states want to make sure that their employees are trained and that supervisor understands your hostile work environment internal policies. You do not want to get into a situation where the EEOC deems that you imposed unwarranted discipline as a means of revenge.
What are the Legal Requirements for a Hostile Work Environment Case?
Employers should be aware of the requirements under hostile work environment Colorado law. They include:
- Alleged employer actions or behavior aimed to discriminate against certain legal classifications such as age, religion, disability, or race, and
- The alleged discriminatory action, which can include communication must be pervasive and cannot be simply a comment that your employee finds annoying.
- The hostile behavior, actions, or communication must be severe.
- As an employer, it can be presumed that you knew about the hostile work environment and did nothing.
What Should You Do As an Employer When You Suspect a Hostile Work Environment in Colorado?
As soon as you become aware of the situation, immediately contact your Human Resources Department. If you are a smaller company, immediately take notes about the specific facts. List names, times, and sequence of events. Then immediately find an employment defense lawyer that understands Colorado hostile work environment law.
This important because you can avoid costly mistakes in the event that your employee files a discrimination claim with the EEOC. It is difficult to change past facts. However, it is a lot easier to act wisely with sound legal advice.
Court Decisions Impacting Colorado Hostile Work Environment Law
The United States Supreme Court ruled in Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services that Title VII is “not a general civility code.” Employment law does not prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not extremely serious when assessing a hostile work environment scenario. Hostile work environment means a more serious impact to the employee’s work experience
Courts and EEOC Hostile Environment Work Environment Definition
Understanding the definition of a hostile work environment means knowing what courts look for? The behavior of employers and their supervisors is the top priority. When it comes to Colorado hostile work environment law, some courts narrowly define a supervisor as a person who has the authority to hire, fire, demote, promote, transfer or discipline an employee.Other courts broadly define a supervisor as any person with authority to direct an employee’s daily activities.
The conduct in question for a hostile work environment focuses on offensive conduct which alters the conditions of the individual’s employment. The employment conditions are altered only if the harassment culminates in a tangible employment action or are sufficiently severe or pervasive.
As a Colorado employer, you want to avoid hostile work environment in the workplace by eliminating situations where employees are exposed to unwanted sexual behavior.
What Should I Do?
Oversee Your Supervisors To Prevent Colorado Hostile Work Environment Lawsuits: As an employer, you may think that the definition of “supervisor” is straightforward. If you are sued for a creating a hostile work environment, you might also find that some courts are split about what a supervisor is. Find out information about employer EEOC position statements.
Employers Must Train Supervisors: Your supervisors must be trained to take steps to avoid these situations in the future. Failure to do this can result in the employer being liable under the EEOC hostile work environment definition. The following are some of the situations that you want to avoid:
- Posting pictures of pornography in employee’s cubicles
- Consistently telling “dirty” jokes or stories where all employees in the work area can hear them
- Tolerating employees who make sexually suggestive remarks about other employees within earshot of others
- Allowing peer employees, clients, suppliers, delivery persons, or even customers (Lockard v. Pizza Hut, 162 F.3d 1062, 1073) to persist in unwanted attention, such as asking for dates
- Allowing the use of derogatory terms with a sexual connotation to be used to describe co-workers
- Allowing frequent physical contact, even when not sexual
In Burlington Industries, Inc. v. Ellerth, 118 S. Ct. 2257 (1998), and Faragher v. City of Boca Raton, 118 S. Ct. 2275 (1998), the Supreme Court made clear that employers are subject to vicarious liability for unlawful employment discrimination and harassment by supervisors.
Tips: The liability standard in these decisions is premised on two principles: 1) an employer is responsible for the acts of its supervisors, and 2) employers should be encouraged to prevent harassment and employees should be encouraged to avoid or limit the harm.
Legal Implications and Things to Consider as Colorado Employers
Employer Defenses: In order to accommodate these principles, Courts tend to rule that an employer is always liable for a supervisor’s harassment if it culminates in a tangible employment action. Hence, a hostile work environment. However, if it does not, the employer may be able to avoid liability or limit damages by establishing an affirmative defense that includes two necessary elements:
- The employer exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct promptly any harassing behavior, and
- The employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of any preventive or corrective opportunities provided by the employer or to avoid harm otherwise.
What does hostile environment mean in Colorado? Hostile Work Places Are Not Always Obvious: As a Colorado employer, understanding hostile work environment definition is not as obvious as you may think. First, the person that complains of the unwanted discriminatory conduct or behavior in the workplace must be within a protected class status. In most states, including Colorado, you cannot discriminate against an employee based upon Age, Disability, Equal Pay/Compensation, National Origin, Pregnancy, Race/Color, Religion or Sex.
The Equal Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in Colorado and other states is the first recourse for discrimination cases. If you are notified that there is a charge filed against you for a hostile work environment, you may want to contact an employment law attorney or discrimination defense lawyer to intervene on your behalf. You have a short time period to respond to such charges.
More important, is the fact that your response begins the official record in the event of employment discrimination litigation.
For more information about hostile work environment Colorado workplaces, call a hostile work environment attorney Colorado and Denver metro areas today at 1-866-601-5518. FREE INITIAL CONSULTATION.