Stuck In a Hostile Work Environment? Here's Your 10-Step Plan to Address It

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By Miriam Grobman

READ MORE: Discrimination, Career advice, Harassment, Workplace

A hostile work environment can be a complex situation to navigate. I spoke to Alex Umansky, a Labor and Employment lawyer from New York, who shared 10 tips for navigating such situations. Here's what he had to say:

A hostile work environment is a form of discrimination and occurs when an employee is subjected to harassment based on a protected trait such as one’s race, color, religion, sex, pregnancy, national origin, age, disability, sexual orientation or genetic information.

This workplace harassment becomes illegal where the employee is able to demonstrate that the workplace was permeated with discriminatory harassment that is so severe or pervasive as to alter the conditions of the employee’s work environment. If you feel that you are being subjected to a hostile work environment, you should take the following steps:

1. Object to the harassment directly to the harasser. Tell the harasser directly that you are offended and uncomfortable by the discriminatory harassment and politely ask them to immediately stop. Don’t make the same mistake as the harasser and say something that you will later regret. Act professional.

2. Document all the harassment to which you’ve been subjected. Write down all the specific discriminatory comments that you have witnessed, including the date and time those comments were made.

3. Print copies of all harassing emails and text messages. Make sure you also print all discriminatory emails and text messages so you don’t lose them in the event your phone dies or you lose it.

4. Depending on the state you work in, try to record the harassment with your phone or recording device. The most important question in the recording context is whether you must get consent from one or all of the parties to a conversation before recording it. Many state statutes, including New York, permit recording if one party (including you) to the conversation consents (one-party consent). Other states require that all parties to the conversation consent. If you work in a one-party consent state, make sure you record as much of the harassment as possible. It is frequently your word against the harasser’s, so you want to accumulate as much objective evidence as you can. Remember, the harasser will deny it.

5. Bring your notes, emails, texts, and recordings home with you. Don’t keep your evidence on your work computer or in your work desk, as your employer will have access to all of it.

6. Talk to coworkers to see if anyone else has experienced similar harassment. If you are being harassed, it is likely that others were or still are being subjected to similar harassment. Talk to them to see if they would be interested in complaining with you. The more people that are telling the same story, the more believable the story is.

7. Research your employer’s complaint procedure and complain about the harassment pursuant to that procedure. You have to give your employer a chance to fix the situation and put an end to the illegal 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 harasser or inform you of the results of any investigation. They only have to make the harassment stop.

8. Continue to complain if the harassment continues. If the harasser continues to harass you after you’ve complained, don’t be afraid to complain again. In fact, it is prudent to complain in writing each and every time you are subjected to discriminatory harassment.

9. Watch out for any retaliation. It is also illegal for an employer to retaliate against an employee who complains of discriminatory harassment and/or raises their rights under anti-discrimination laws. If the harasser or anyone else retaliates against you in any way whatsoever, immediately complain about the retaliation in the same manner as you complained of the discriminatory harassment. Depending on the State you work in (See Section 4 above), you should record each and every complaint you make to upper management and/or the employer’s Human Resources Department.

10. Meet with an attorney. Contact a reputable employment discrimination attorney to explore all of your legal rights.

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Alex Umansky, Esq. is a Partner at Law Office of Yuriy Moshes, P.C. He is certified to practice law in NY and NJ as well as on federal level. Alex is specialized in Labor and Employment, Discrimination and Sexual Harassment. For more info: http://mosheslaw.com/

Miriam Grobman Consulting works with organizations that want to advance more talented women into leadership roles by breaking cultural barriers and giving them the right skills to be successful. Their approach is data-driven, global and collaborative. Contact them here if you’d like to discuss the right strategy for your organization. You can follow them on Facebook page, Leadership and Women for inspiring stories about women leaders and practical career advice. Learn more at www.miriamgrobman.com and sign up for their newsletter.

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