What Is Considered a Hostile Work Environment by Delaware Law?

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Delaware's Discrimination in Employment Act makes it illegal to discriminate against workers based on their race, religion, gender and other factors. That includes mistreating an employee to the point of creating a hostile work environment.

Discrimination in Delaware

The State of Delaware's Discrimination in Employment Act says harassing an employee may be illegal if the employee is targeted based on certain factors:

•Race.

•Skin color.

•Religion.

•Sex

•Sexual orientation.

•National origin.

•Disability.

•Age.

•Marital status.

•Information resulting from genetic tests, for example a test showing an employee has a hereditary disease.

Mistreatment or bullying based on any of these things becomes harassment if it creates a hostile work environment.

Harassment and Hostility

The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines a hostile work environment as:

"A hostile environment can result from the unwelcome conduct of supervisors, co-workers, customers, contractors, or anyone else with whom the victim interacts on the job, and the unwelcome conduct renders the workplace atmosphere intimidating, hostile, or offensive."

This definition applies to Delaware and other states, though the states are free to adopt tougher rules. As of May 2015, federal anti-harassment law doesn't apply to harassment based on sexual orientation. Delaware's does. State law also bans discrimination against employees for associating with or being related to a member of a particular religious or ethnic group. It's also illegal to harass an employee because he's associated with a place of worship, for example one associated with a particular minority

Hostility doesn't have to involve firing or hiring, or affect pay or promotion. It can include inappropriate touching, using slurs or epithets, posting offensive pictures and physical threats or assaults. To create a hostile work environment, the behavior usually has to be repeated or persistent.

The harassment doesn't have to come from the employee's supervisor: a co-worker, client, customer or a supervisor in another department can create a hostile work environment. The victim doesn't have to be the target of the harassment. For example, a Muslim or Jew who sees a fellow believer harassed could easily feel the workplace was intimidating or hostile.

Bullying that isn't based on discrimination isn't illegal in Delaware. A supervisor who abuses his entire staff, for example, can create a hostile environment, but he's not breaking the law. Delaware, like most states, has no laws banning non-discriminatory workplace bullying.

Taking Action

If you believe your workplace constitutes a hostile environment, you can try resolving it through your company's complaint procedure. If the company refuses to help, you can report the case to the Delaware Department of Labor's Office of Discrimination. You can download the paperwork from the state website, but you must file the complaint in person, at the DOL office in Milford or Wilmington. The DOL will then double-file your complaint with the EEOC.

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