A particularly pernicious form of discrimination in employment is the creation of a hostile work environment. Like its counterpart at the federal level, Pennsylvania law doesn’t specifically define a hostile work environment. Instead, the definition has developed through case law and elements of other anti-discrimination legislation, and the two standards are equivalent. While it’s far more than the occasional offensive joke or picture or petty insult or slight, courts do consider the totality of circumstances. Employers must therefore remain vigilant against the creation of any hostile work environments in their facilities.
To meet the legal standard of a hostile work environment, the complainant must demonstrate the existence of intentional, pervasive and regular discrimination based on his membership in a protected class. In addition, the complainant must also demonstrate that the discrimination had a detrimental effect and that any reasonable member of the same protected class would also be detrimentally affected.
What to Do
If you’re the victim of a hostile work environment, document every behavior you can, in as detailed a fashion as possible.
Keeping a work diary in a bound journal is a good way to record instances of harassment and other discriminatory behavior. Note date, time, and people involved. The better the record, the more valuable it will be in supporting your case.
If you have union representation, discuss the matter with your shop steward. Your complaint may become a formal grievance, and if not resolved according to the union contract, may be sent for arbitration.
Even if you don’t have union representation, your employer probably provides an employee handbook or personnel policy manual that outlines the steps to take to report harassment and discrimination. If you still don’t get a satisfactory resolution, you can file a complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Rights Commission.