What Is Considered a Hostile Work Environment Under the Laws of Ohio?

Tough bosses and obnoxious coworkers are inescapable facts of life. You should never, however, feel emotionally degraded or physically threatened throughout your workday.

Federal and state laws protect Ohio residents from hostile work environments. When a supervisor, manager, or fellow employee harasses you to the point that you fear for your safety, become unable to do your job well, or feel forced to quit, you may have grounds for filing an employment lawsuit.

Defining “Hostile Work Environment”

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) explains on its website that creating a hostile work environment or allowing a hostile work environment to persist without trying to improve the situation is a form of unlawful harassment. The commission than states, “Harassment becomes unlawful where 1) enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or 2) the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.”

The terms “severe and pervasive” are extremely important. One-time jokes, gentle teasing, and bantering back and forth do not meet the legal standard for being deemed harassing behaviors. Even if a comment such as a racial slur is deeply offensive and hurtful, it will not support a hostile work environment lawsuit if the slur is spewed a single time.

Hostile Work Environment Laws Apply to Protected Classes of Workers ad to Protected Actions

The harassment that gives rise to a hostile work environment lawsuit must be based on a personal characteristic or an activity that is specifically protected by a state or federal law. Protected characteristics are

  • Age over 40
  • An acknowledged or presumed disability
  • Genetic information
  • Active, reserve, or retired military status
  • National origin and ethnicity
  • Pregnancy
  • Race and skin color
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Sexual Orientation (under Ohio state and regulations only)

Employees are also protected against hostile actions when they report discrimination or harassment or participate in an investigation of such reports. That is, harassment done in retaliation for taking a legally protected action, including refusing to actively discriminate, can be considered hostile.

Recognizing Hostile Behaviors in the Workplace

To again cite the EEOC, workplace harassment that could cross the line into creating a hostile work environment “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.”

The commission further notes that anyone who witnesses severe and pervasive harassment has a legal right to report it and that a victim does not have to suffer a wrongful termination or some other type of economic injury in order to succeed with a hostile work environment lawsuit.

Who Can You Sue for a Hostile Work Environment?

When you have grounds to file a hostile work environment claim, you can name the supervisor, manager, or coworker who harassed you and your employer as defendants. The company or agency can be held legally liable for allowing hostility to occur and for not putting an end to the harassment before it became severe and pervasive.

Employment law attorneys in the Columbus offices of Agee Clymer Mitchell & Portman are available to help workers throughout Ohio. We offer free, confidential consultations, and we remain open during the public health crisis. If you have been the victim of discrimination or harassment at work and wish to discuss your legal options, you can schedule an appointment online or speak with a lawyer by calling (614) 221-3318 or (800) 678-3318.