I have been getting many calls lately by folks who are truly being harassed to the point where the work environment has become increasingly, if not unbearably, hostile. Harassment or a hostile work environment, however, is not what most people think it is. Normal people, that is non-lawyers, believe that if someone is making their lives miserable and are constantly after them about this or that at work that they are being harassed and that it is against the law to be harassed at work. Normal people believe that they are entitled to a safe workplace, free from harassment of any kind and that the law protects them from this. That’s how it SHOULD BE, but is not.
The phrase “hostile work environment” is perhaps the most misunderstood phrase in Florida’s workplace today. Unfortunately, unless you can show that the reason, in other words the “why” you are being harassed or the “why” a hostile work environment has been created is BECAUSE OF your age, race, gender, religion, nationality, disability, HIV status or marital status, you have no claim. These categories are referred to in the law as “protected classifications.”
This is regardless of the level of hostility that is being created by another’s actions towards you, whether it management or a co-employee. This is regardless of the frequency, duration or intensity of the actions. There are slightly different rules for management and the higher the perpetrator is up the food chain, the more protections you have but it gets really complicated and would require a consultation with an attorney, which we are happy to provide free of charge on the phone. Also, if the harassment is non-stop for an extended period of time, you MAY be able to quit and have a claim for what is called “constructive discharge” but that will be the subject of another post. Stay tuned.
It is very difficult for the non-lawyer member of our society (and frankly unless one is an employment lawyer, most lawyers can’t believe it either) that this is the state of affairs in which we live in the state of Florida. Not all states are like this, however, because of the individuals whom we elect to public office here in Florida, starting with the governor, are more pro-business than pro-employee, this is it. So the next time you believe you are being harassed, unless you are being treated that way because of your membership in one of those protected classifications listed above, don’t even say anything to anyone or you could easily be fired and have no claim for what is the next most misunderstood concept in the law, which is what it takes to have a claim for RETALIATION. Come back to my blog and find out more about retaliation and assorted other issues but prepared to be surprised if not horrified.