Hostile work environment not uncommon, according to recent survey

woman in hostile work environment

Rand Corp., Harvard Med, and UCLA recently surveyed 3,066 American workers about their jobs. The results were shocking:

  • Nearly 20% said they face a threatening or hostile work environment
  • Almost 55% reported “unpleasant and potentially hazardous conditions” at work
  • Approximately 75% said they spend at least one fourth of their time on the job doing “intense or repetitive physical labor”
  • 78% responded that their employers do not permit telework
  • Only 38% felt that they had opportunities for advancement in their jobs, a prospect that becomes less likely as the worker gets older

What is a hostile work environment?

Although the working conditions survey respondents reported sound downright cold, they may not be illegal. In employment cases, the law recognizes two types of harassment:

  • Harassment that ends in a tangible employment action such as a demotion or termination; or
  • Harassment that creates a hostile work environment.

To make a claim for hostile work environment, you must prove:

  • That you were subjected to unwelcome conduct
  • That was severe and/or pervasive
  • And based on your membership in a protected group.

Some examples of protected groups include gender, age, race, national origin, and disability. One way to prove that harassment is based on your protected characteristic is to show that your employer treated employees outside of your protected group better than you. For example, a female employee may be able to prove hostile work environment if she can demonstrate that male employees have better working conditions or benefits.

What should I do if I work in a hostile work environment?

If you have concerns about a hostile work environment, contact Alan Lescht and Associates today if you have concerns about a hostile work environment. Call us at (202) 463-6036, or email us. We offer strategic and results-driven legal services to clients in DC, Maryland, and northern Virginia, and to federal government employees around the world.

A sample of our hostile work environment cases

Faraci v. CACI: We represented a government contractor who worked overseas. The arbitrator ruled in our client’s favor on sexual harassment and retaliation claims and, as a result, awarded compensatory damages and attorney’s fees.

Figueroa v. Savanar: We won a jury trial in a sexual harassment case and obtained a $200,000 verdict.

Chadwick v. District of Columbia: We won a jury trial and obtained a $400,000 verdict on behalf of a former employee of the District of Columbia’s Oak Hill Youth Center, who alleged that she was sexually harassed by her former supervisors.

Federal employees may be subject to discipline for off-duty misconduct

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Federal agencies may discipline employees for off-duty misconduct in certain circumstances.  However, the agency must establish a “nexus,” or connection, between off-duty actions and the efficiency of the service.  In other words, the agency must prove at least one of the following:

  • The misconduct is so egregious that a connection with the efficiency of the agency is presumed;
  • The misconduct adversely affects the employee’s job performance or the agency’s trust and confidence in the employee’s ability to perform; or
  • The misconduct adversely affected the agency’s mission.

Is the off-duty misconduct egregious?

Whether misconduct is “egregious” is fact-specific.  Just because the misconduct is illegal, does not necessarily mean it is egregious for disciplinary purposes.  However, violent crimes against persons and sexual abuse of minors are generally egregious enough to establish nexus.

Does the misconduct negatively impact job performance or the agency’s trust and confidence in the employee’s performance?

In proposing discipline, the agency will argue that it no longer has confidence in the employee’s performance.  Employees who engaged in misconduct related to their work duties face an uphill battle.  For example, an off-duty DUI will be difficult to overcome if the employee’s work duties including operating a motor vehicle.

However, employees can provide evidence to show that their misconduct did not affect their performance.  It is helpful if the employee received a positive performance rating or a grade increase after the misconduct occurred.  It is good evidence if the agency knew about the off-duty misconduct but permitted the employee to continue performing his or her duties — instead of being reassigned or put on leave.

Did the misconduct adversely affect the agency’s mission?

Many different factors may determine whether off-duty actions adversely affect the agency’s mission.  Off-duty misconduct may adversely affect the agency’s mission if it occurred at a work facility or work-related event.  The same is true for off-duty misconduct involving other federal employees or supervisors.  Negative publicity given to the off-duty misconduct may also adversely affect the agency’s mission.

Contact Alan Lescht and Associates today if you questions about being disciplined for off-duty misconduct.  Call us at (202) 463-6036, or email us. We offer strategic and results-driven legal services to federal government employees around the world.