New York Hostile Work Environment

New York Hostile Work Environment

For a considerable duration, our society has endeavored to safeguard the rights of all employees, particularly those belonging to minority and vulnerable groups. Despite these efforts, instances of workplace harassment and discrimination leading to hostile work environments persist, and as a result, employees feel marginalized and dis empowered.

What Constitutes a Hostile Work Environment?

The term hostile workplace environment is a legal concept that denotes the presence of unwelcome discriminatory harassment in a workplace setting. It arises when the workplace is saturated with discriminatory and offensive remarks and behaviors, thereby significantly altering the conditions of an employee’s work environment.

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In New York, illegal harassment is unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual harassment), national origin, age, disability, genetic information, sexual orientation, alienage or citizenship status, marital status/partnership status, caregiver status, and status as a victim of domestic violence, stalking, and sex offenses. Harassment becomes unlawful where it creates a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive. It is also illegal to harass an employee in retaliation for complaining of, or objecting to, unlawful discrimination.

According to The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), “Petty slights, annoyances, and isolated incidents (unless extremely serious) will not rise to the level of illegality. To be unlawful, the conduct must create a work environment that would be intimidating, hostile, or offensive to reasonable people. Offensive conduct may include, but is not limited to, offensive jokes, slurs, epithets or name calling, physical assaults or threats, intimidation, ridicule or mockery, insults or put-downs, offensive objects or pictures, and interference with work performance.”

How to Establish an Unfavorable Workplace Atmosphere. What Behaviors Are Regarded as Indicators of an Unwelcoming Work Setting?

In New York, to be deemed an unlawful hostile work environment, the following must be satisfied:

  • The harassment is discriminatory on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, pregnancy, gender identity, national origin, age, disability, genetic information, sexual orientation, alienage or citizenship status, marital status/partnership status, caregiver status, or status as a victim of domestic violence, stalking, and sex offenses;
  • The behavior or conduct must create a work environment that would be intimidating, hostile, or offensive to reasonable people, not to just the person making the complaint; and
  • a) The harasser is in a supervisory position over the victim; or
    b) The employer had knowledge of the harassment and failed to take any action to put an end to it.

It is important to understand that:

  • The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, an agent of the employer, a co-worker, or a non-employee;
  • The victim does not have to be the person harassed but can be anyone affected by the offensive conduct; and
  • Unlawful harassment may occur without economic injury to, or discharge of, the victim.

Hostile Work Environment Examples

  • Racist Jokes;
  • Using offensive language (such as epithets, gross generalization, bigoted jokes, offensive nicknames) towards a coworker or employee;
  • Discriminatory Teasing;
  • Regular comments about the person appearance in a sexual or derogatory way;
  • Touching a person without permission;
  • Mocking people for their physical or intellectual disabilities;
  • Physical bulling or threats of physical violence due to a protected trait listed above;
  • Displaying racist or sexually inappropriate pictures; and
  • Demanding sex in exchange for a promotion or other benefits.
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Social media posts that contain inappropriate photos or offensive remarks about colleagues on platforms like Facebook can significantly impact the workplace atmosphere negatively.

Workplace Bullying Laws

There is currently no law in New York State that prohibits general bullying in the workplace – bullying that is not based on a protected trait. While the law prohibits discriminatory harassment, the law does not create a general civility code for the workplace.

How to Promote a Healthy Work Environment and What Steps to Take if You Encounter a Challenging Workplace Atmosphere

If you believe that you are being subjected to a hostile work environment, your first step should always be to raise the issue directly with your employer. We always recommend taking the following steps:


    • Tell the harasser that his/her behavior is offensive to you based on the protected trait at issue and politely ask the person to stop. It is recommended to document this request, as it can later be used to prove that you asked the harasser to stop his/her discriminatory behavior. Sending an email is probably the best way to tell the harasser that his/her behavior is offensive and unwanted. In most cases, the employee will stop the behavior since he/she may not have realized the degree to which you found the actions offensive.

    • Keep a log and document everything that contributes to the hostile work environment. Log all the comments and actions, include date, time, and circumstances.

    • Photograph any discriminatory images, displays, or cartoons that indicate a possible hostile work environment.

    • Keep copies of offending communications, such as emails, text messages, voicemail messages, notes, and gifts.

hostile work environment


    • Research your employer’s complaint procedure and complain about the hostile work environment pursuant to that procedure. You have to give your employer a chance to fix the situation and put an end to the discriminatory harassment. Make sure you follow your employer’s complaint procedure, if there is one, and report the harassment to the correct person. It is always best to put your complaint in writing. If you’ve only complained verbally, make sure you follow up in writing confirming the fact that you complained and reiterating the subject of that verbal complaint. Furthermore, provide the person to whom you’re complaining with copies of all the evidence you’ve accumulated. Remember, the employer doesn’t have to fire the person harassing you or inform you of the results of any investigation. They only have to make the discriminatory harassment stop.

    • Be able to prove that management was aware of the harassment, or that they should have been aware by documenting dates, times, places and other details of any meetings or discussions at which you reported the situation to the appropriate people.

    • Contact other witnesses and take statements.

    • Make sure to preserve any evidence you have. Keep multiple hardcopies in different places in case you lose one. Also, keep an electronic copy safe in a backed up file.

    • Look at things that have the potential to foster harassing and hostile behaviors. Can you remove them? Modify or reduce them? Is there something new that can be introduced to remedy the situation early? You want to curb it before they happen, so you really need to think about what you can do to help make it stop.


    • Contact an attorney to learn all of your options and discuss the best course of action to take.

    • Remember that it is also illegal to take any retaliatory action against an employee for complaining about discriminatory harassment.

Can I Sue my Employer for Creating a Hostile Work Environment?

Yes, under federal law, you must be able to show that the harassment was based on the victim’s race, color, national origin, gender, pregnancy, religion, disability, age, and genetic information. New York State law also protects against discriminatory harassment based on additional traits, such as gender identity, sexual orientation, alienage or citizenship status, marital status/partnership status, caregiver status, or status as a victim of domestic violence, stalking, and sex offenses. If you are thinking about bringing a hostile work environment lawsuit against your employer, it is best to seek the assistance of an experienced workplace attorney.

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Do you face discrimination or harassment at work in NYC? The Law Offices of Yuriy Moshes, P.C. advocates for victims of unfair treatment in the workplace across the greater New York City area, including Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island, as well as Northern New Jersey, upstate New York, and Long Island. Acting swiftly is crucial.

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