Q. What factors determine whether a work environment is hostile?
A. Determining whether a work environment is hostile is a fact-sensitive question, based on the following legal standard:
- There is unwelcome verbal or physical conduct based on the person’s sex (or race, age, religion or other protected class)
- The conduct is sufficiently severe or pervasive
- The conduct detrimentally affected the person
- The conduct would detrimentally affect a reasonable person of the same sex (or race, age, religion or other protected class) in that position
- There is respondeat superior liability—the harasser is a supervisor (or if the harasser is a co-worker, the employer knew or should have known about the harassment).
Also, the discriminatory conduct must be so extreme as to interfere with the employee’s performance or create an intimidating, offensive and hostile work environment.
Generally, isolated comments are insufficient to sustain a claim for a hostile work environment.