In a decision issued on April 27, 2017, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals interpreted the standard for establishing a “hostile work environment” claim more broadly than many HR professionals and employment lawyers would normally expect. Employers should be aware of the implications of this decision and understand how to avoid liability for hostile work environment.
Employees alleging discrimination under Title VII often claim that they were subjected to a “hostile work environment.” Generally, a hostile work environment under Title VII is created by offensive conduct, based on a person’s membership in a protected class (such as race or gender), that is severe or pervasive enough to alter the victim’s working environment. Over the years, there have been many court decisions discussing what constitutes a hostile work environment, and one often-repeated standard is that an “isolated incident” is generally not sufficient to establish a hostile work environment.
Yet the Second Circuit held in Daniel v. T&M Protection Resources LLC that the plaintiff’s supervisor’s use of a racial epithet was “by itself, sufficiently severe to constitute an actionable hostile work environment within the meaning of Title VII.” The supervisor had called the plaintiff a “f- – ing n – – – – r.”
In other words, a one-time remark by a single “bad apple” could be the basis for an employer to be held liable under Title VII for hostile work environment, if it is severe enough. This means that anti-discrimination and anti-harassment training for employees and managers is more important than ever. Having your employees and management undergo such training on a regular basis can go a long way toward reducing the likelihood that an employee will “go rogue” and engage in conduct for which the company could be held liable.
In addition, anti-discrimination and anti-harassment training can help an employer establish that it did everything possible to disseminate its harassment and discrimination policy to its staff. Other helpful steps include posting the policy on bulletin boards, including it in a well-written, regularly updated employee handbook, and distributing it during the on-boarding process (and having new hires sign an acknowledgement of receipt). Taking these steps can reduce the potential for an employer to be held liable for discrimination/harassment.
If your employees and managers have not completed training in 2016, you should make it a priority in 2017 to diminish the company’s exposure to expensive litigation.
If you have questions about this issue, or would like to inquire about updating your policy or scheduling training sessions, please contact one of PMP’s experienced HR professionals.
Should you have any questions about this matter, please do not hesitate to contact PMP. Please keep in mind that in addition to our staff of seasoned HR professionals, we also have experienced employment attorneys on-site to address any questions you may have regarding legal compliance. Contact us at 800-921-2195 or 516-921-3400. You can also visit our website http://www.pmphr.com/ or e-mail us at info@pmpHR.com.