What you can do as a Solo Mom to protect yourself in a hostile work environment
A hostile work environment is one in which someone is harassed based on race, sex, or some other protected characteristic (age, sexual preference, ability, ethnicity, etc.). The harassment must be extreme in that it makes the work environment unbearable. As a Solo Mom, you need to know what a hostile work environment is and how to protect yourself.
According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC’s) report Enforcement Guidance: Unlawful Disparate Treatment of Workers with Caregiving Responsibilities, published in May 2007: “Although the federal EEO [Equal Employment Opportunity] laws do not prohibit discrimination against caregivers per se, there are circumstances in which discrimination against caregivers might constitute unlawful disparate treatment.” This means single parents can’t sue employers for discrimination based solely on the fact that they’re a single parent. However, the EEOC advises that “there are circumstances where discrimination against [single-parent caregivers] may give rise to sex discrimination under Title VII or disability discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act.”
For a hostile work environment to exist, the harassment needs to happen regularly, either on a daily or weekly basis. If the work environment becomes unbearable because your boss is generally abusive, this is not a hostile work environment and it is not actionable. Small issues, annoyances, and isolated incidents typically are not considered to be illegal. To be unlawful, the conduct must create a work environment that would be intimidating, hostile, or offensive to a reasonable person. Employers can be held liable for failing to prevent these workplace environments, unless they can prove that they attempted to prevent the harassment and the employee failed to take advantage of existing sexual harassment tools provided by the employer.
Here are some tips for Solo Moms for surviving a hostile work environment.
- Take breaks. Take a short break outside the office. Shut out the hostility by wearing headphones to listen to some relaxing music. Brighten your day and workspace with a family picture, a flowering plant, and/or a candy jar. Finally, avoid abusive coworkers and direct confrontation whenever possible.
- Review company policies. Become familiar with company policies related to appropriate behavior and interactions in the workplace. Keep careful records of specific events to support any future personnel or legal actions that might arise.
- Seek help. Talk to your boss about any problems. The goal should be to make your boss aware of a problem without sounding petty or like someone who is unable to be a team player. Be prepared to identify specific steps you want supervisors to take to improve the atmosphere at work. If your boss is the main cause of the hostility, you might need to request the assistance of human resources personnel or seek legal help.
For additional information, visit the EEOC’s page on harassment.
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Jennifer Graff is the director of compliance at Wells Fargo Insurance Services. She is dedicated to helping people navigate the complex world of employee benefits and employment law.
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