Florida workers are protected from harassment in the workplace by both state and federal laws. The state law is the Florida Civil Rights Act, and the federal laws are Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), and the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”).
What Is Harassment?
Generally, workplace harassment is defined as employers discriminating against workers because of race, religion, sex, national origin, age, or disability. To win a harassment lawsuit you must prove the harassing behavior was about your race, religion, sex, national origin, age, or disability, which alters the terms and conditions of your employment.
Under both state and federal anti-discrimination laws, an employer can be liable for harassment for the actions of a supervisor, co-worker, and in some cases a client, customer, or vendor, if the employer knew or should have known of the harassment and failed to take steps to stop the harassing behavior.
Hostile Work Environment
A required element of a workplace harassment claim is determining whether or not the harassing behavior caused a “hostile work environment.” There are a few factors which help determine if the work environment is hostile.
- Were you subjected to offensive acts or statements about race, religion, sex, national origin, age, or disability. (Even if they weren’t specifically directed towards you, it still may be a hostile work environment.)
- Did you welcome the offensive acts or statements? In other words, did you direction or indirectly invite or solicit them by your own acts and statements? If not, then you may have a hostile work environment.
- Would a reasonable person, not someone overly sensitive, have found the offensive acts or statements to have materially altered the terms and conditions of your employment? If so, then you may have a hostile work environment.
Conduct Must Be Severe or Pervasive
To win a harassment lawsuit you must also prove that the offensive behavior was so “severe or pervasive” that it materially altered the terms and conditions of your employment. This means it can be either severe or pervasive, it does not have to be both. “Pervasive harassment” involves less serious conduct that happens frequently over a long period of time.
In determining whether conduct is so severe or pervasive that it materially alters the terms and conditions of employment you must examine the following questions:
- How often does the offensive behavior occur?
- What is the severity of the offensive behavior?
- Was the offensive behavior physically or psychologically threatening or humiliating?
- Did the offensive behavior unreasonably interfere with work performance?
A “material alteration” of the terms and conditions of employment means a significant change. Conduct that amounts only to ordinary socializing does not rise to a hostile work environment. Neither does the occasional horseplay, flirtation, off-hand remark, simple teasing, or sporadic use of offensive language/jokes related to race, religion, sex, national origin, age, or disability. However, discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, insults, or other verbal and/or physical conduct may be so extreme or occur so frequently that it materially alters the terms and conditions of employment.
For More Information
It’s important that you contact a workplace harassment lawyer as soon as possible so you don’t miss any important deadlines. You should also contact a workplace harassment lawyer for assistance on reporting the offensive behavior to your employer.
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