“Hostile work environment” is a term commonly used by employees who feel they've been treated poorly by a supervisor at work. Unfortunately, many unpleasant work situations are not legally actionable.
Rarely does a legally-actionable claim exist for an employee who has a “mean” boss.
Legally-Actionable Hostile Work Environments
For a hostile work environment to be a violation of the law, the employee has to be subjected to that work environment because of a legally protected characteristic. The New Hampshire “Law Against Discrimination” makes it illegal for employers in the state to discriminate on the basis of:
- Physical or mental disability
- National origin
- Marital status
- Sexual orientation
In other words, if an employee is frequently being mocked or criticized about her age (“Shouldn’t you be retiring? We need some new blood here”) or one of the other protected characteristics mentioned above, he or she may have a legal claim.
The most classic type of legally-actionable hostile work environment exists for an employee who is being sexually harassed by a co-worker or a supervisor. In any case, the unlawful conduct must be severe or pervasive in order for a hostile work environment to be actionable.
If you think you're being subjected to a hostile work environment because of a legally protected characteristic, you should speak with a knowledgeable attorney about your working environment without delay.
Filing a Claim
Employment cases have short deadlines for filing claims with administrative agencies, which is a prerequisite to bringing a hostile environment lawsuit. In New Hampshire, a person has just 180 days following the discrimination within which to file under state law, and 300 days to file under federal law.
An attorney can help you draft and send the discrimination filing paperwork. When complete, the claim can be filed either with the New Hampshire Commission for Human Rights (NHCHR) or the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in Boston, Massachusetts. You don't need to file a claim with both agencies as it's possible to “cross-file” the claim with both at once.
Filing a charge of discrimination—from meeting deadlines, to investigations, to potential court appearances—is a serious undertaking. The good news is, you don't have to do it alone.