The dictionary defines horseplay as “rough or loud play: energetic and noisy playful activity,” while a “hostile work environment” can exist when one’s behavior within a workplace creates an environment that is difficult for another person to work in. But it’s not that easy to prove one exists.
A 2014 Workplace Bullying survey conducted by the Workplace Bullying Institute shows 48 percent of Americans are affected by bullying. In 2010, an institute survey reflected that 37 percent of U.S. workers – 54 million people – believed they had been subjected to a workplace “hostility.” Companies know that workplace bullying is a serious problem, not only for the bottom line, but also for morale.
A worker’s belief that a hostile work environment exists is often legally undermined by an analysis of the severity and pervasiveness of the conduct. To prove a hostile work environment, one must show he or she was treated differently because of a protected status (e.g., age or gender) and the harassment was severe or pervasive. Most courts hold that one or two hostile acts will not support a claim for a hostile work environment.
In a pending federal case in New York, a court will consider whether one act is enough to support a hostile work environment claim. That case involved a bus mechanic for a public transportation authority. On his last day of work before moving to another agency, he was working when a co-worker grabbed his shoulder hard. He tried to pull away but the co-worker (at 6 feet tall and 300 pounds) held him down aggressively. The co-worker picked him up in the air and dropped him face down on the ground. He screamed, “Let me go.” The co-worker grabbed his arms and forced them behind his back.