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When a single incident creates a hostile workplace

People working in New York may understand how easily a conflict between employees could rise to the level of a hostile workplace. In some cases, this may be true of an employee who has only been involved in a single harassing act as opposed to a pattern of poor behavior. According to the EEOC, harassment is unwelcome conduct that is based on a protected attribute and is a condition of employment.

It also says that it is any behavior that creates conditions a reasonable person would deem to be abusive or hostile. The EEOC has clarified by saying that a single event is generally not unlawful behavior unless it is egregious. Furthermore, petty slights and annoyances do not usually rise to the level of unlawful conduct. Despite this guidance, courts have not always ruled uniformly when it comes to what constitutes a hostile workplace.

However, the Second and Third Circuit courts have ruled that a single utterance of a racial slur or similar behavior on its own could create a hostile work environment. Therefore, New York employers may want to create policies that guard against even single instances of harassment taking place. In the Third Circuit's ruling, it was expressly noted that the standard for creating a hostile work environment was severe or pervasive harassment as opposed to severe and pervasive.

As a general rule, employers are liable for keeping their employees safe from harassment at work. Failure to do so could result in employees seeking monetary or other forms of relief. If a worker is wrongfully terminated, he or she may be able to ask for reinstatement to that position. Legal counsel may be able to help those who have been the target of racial slurs, jokes or other discrimination on the job.

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