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What Is a Hostile Work Environment? - Definition, Laws & Examples

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  • 0:04 What Is a Hostile Work…
  • 0:42 Employment Laws
  • 2:08 Enforcement of the…
  • 2:47 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Shawn Grimsley
A hostile work environment is an important concept in employment discrimination law. In this lesson, you will learn what a hostile work environment is and some of the employment laws that use the concept, and you'll look at some examples.

What Is a Hostile Work Environment?

A hostile work environment is a concept in employment discrimination law in which unwelcome and discriminatory conduct is so severe that it creates an offensive and abusive environment for an employee. The concept of a hostile work environment is important for both employers and employees to know. Employers need to know so they don't encourage or tolerate a hostile work environment. An employer can be liable for encouraging or permitting a hostile workplace. Employees also need to understand the concept so they don't encourage a hostile work environment, and they can benefit from knowing their rights if they are a victim of a hostile workplace.

Employment Laws

Many federal employment laws utilize the concept of a hostile workplace. Some of the most important include:

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Title VII prevents discrimination in employment based upon race, color, national origin, sex, and religion, including the creation of a hostile workplace. For example, an employer permitting the posting of racial jokes is guilty of creating a hostile workplace.

Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)

The ADEA prohibits employment discrimination based on age for applicants or employees that are 40 years of age or older. A hostile work environment is also prohibited under the act. For example, constant and pervasive jokes about an employee's old age creates a hostile work environment that subjects the employer to liability if the victim is 40 years or older.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The ADA protects disabled applicants and employees from discrimination, including a hostile work environment. For example, a manager constantly harassing a disabled employee about the need to accommodate the employee's disability creates a hostile work environment.

Sexual Harassment

Title VII prevents sexual harassment, which is quintessential of a hostile workplace environment. For example, sexist jokes or continuous and unwelcome sexual advances from a co-worker constitute a hostile work environment.

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