A common misconception about hostile workplace environments is that the employer must be the one who makes it a hostile workplace. However, bullying at work can occur at any time and from any person, making the business potentially liable for the actions of its employees even if the employer is innocent of any wrongdoing. The key to avoiding such a lawsuit is recognizing and preventing the bullying before it escalates to a hostile work environment.

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To create a legal liability, the bullying itself has to reach a point where at least one worker actually fears going to work. Currently, federal code and case law state that this atmosphere must be one that is "offensive, intimidating, or oppressive." Watch in particular for employees who initially turn in great work, but then start to withdraw and become less vocal. Excessive tardiness from an otherwise excellent employee could also be a sign that something is amiss.

Bullying at work does need to go beyond mere teasing, though. In Oncale v Sundowner Offshore Services, the Supreme Court clearly stated that simple teasing and offhanded jokes weren't enough to create a hostile work environment. The reasonable person standard is generally used. In situations where the employee is disabled, a reasonable disabled person standard is applied. The standard is practically the same, and it simply asks how a reasonable person in that situation would respond to that kind of treatment.

Preventing bullying requires a clear policy as well as reprimands and reprisals for failure to comply. Most of the time, basic warnings should be given initially before other disciplinary actions such as loss of benefits or demotion follow. Just make sure that the standards are made clear, and also ensure that they are equally applied. Document the bullying and hostile behavior with an Employee Warning Letter, in case the bully brings a countersuit.

Get started Start Your Employee Warning Letter Answer a few questions. We'll take care of the rest.

Get started Start Your Employee Warning Letter Answer a few questions. We'll take care of the rest.