Monthly Archives

January 2018

Career Law

How to Spot the #1 Sign of a Hostile Work Environment

January 29, 2018
Hostile Work Environment

As a legal practitioner, I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to clarify exactly what constitutes a hostile work environment. When it comes to employment discrimination, there are several laws intended to protect employees.

In addition to city and state laws, which vary in strength and scope, there are many federal laws that offer this protection as well; most notably Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1967, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act and the Equal Pay Act.

Courts have repeatedly opined that these laws are not general civility codes, meaning — no matter how unfortunate — the law does not protect against generally rude or undesirable behavior at work.

You can’t sue your boss just because he’s a jerk. No, the conduct that city, state and federal anti-discrimination laws protect against must be related to a class protected by those statutes.

In other words, the unwelcome conduct must target a protected class, most commonly: sex/gender, race, religion, age, disability, national origin, veteran status, domestic violence victim status and so forth. In some states, sexual orientation is also a protect class.

The term “hostile work environment” carries legal significance that goes beyond workplace unpleasantness or even general bullying. For a hostile work environment to exist, there must be an overarching protected class.

In other words, when an employee alleges they’ve been subjected to a hostile work environment, it must be related to — and a direct result of — a group that is protected by a state or federal statute.

One’s civil rights (and individual employment) must be threatened as part of the offensive conduct.

Hostile Work Environment

What isn’t a hostile work environment?

Before discussing the number one sign of a hostile work environment, it helps to discuss conduct that does not constitute a hostile work environment.

Cursing, casual joking, rudeness, petty slights, nitpicking, bossiness and unpleasant behavior, on its own, are not enough to bring a hostile work environment claim.

A supervisor or coworker who routinely antagonizes most or all employees in the workplace, regardless of who they are, will likely not be found to be creating a hostile work environment.

Why? Because the conduct is done indiscriminately, i.e. without regard for a protected class.

In fact, a common defense for employers in employment discrimination cases, particularly those involving managers or supervisors, is that the alleged bad actor did not engage in discrimination, but was simply a “stickler” or a “loose cannon” known for giving everyone a hard time.

An employer who routinely blows their lid, creates a threatening and intimidating work environment, and generally treats their employees poorly will be protected under the law if their conduct is deemed unrelated to a protected class.

This is a hard pill for many employees to swallow, particularly those who find themselves stuck in such volatile workplaces.

So, what constitutes a hostile work environment?

hostile work environment

As discussed above, a hostile work environment can only exist where the conduct allegedly targets a specific protected class or classes. For conduct and/or speech to rise to the level of a hostile work environment in these cases, the conduct must be intentional, severe or pervasive, and directly interfere with the employee’s ability to perform his or her job.

For workplace conduct to be deemed severe or pervasive, a court or investigating agency will utilize a “reasonable person” standard, asking whether a reasonable person would consider the alleged conduct to be intimidating, hostile or abusive.

Additionally, one-off occurrences of offensive behavior will generally not rise to the level of a hostile work environment.

The “stray remarks doctrine,” first set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court, and expounded upon by courts since then, has routinely been relied on to dismiss employment discrimination claims.

Exactly what constitutes a stray remark warrants its own discussion, but the typical analysis reviews who made the remark — a decision maker or not; the nexus between the remark and the employment decision at issue; the ambiguity of the remark or whether it could reasonably be deemed discriminatory; and the temporal proximity between the remark and the adverse employment decision.

So, what’s the number one sign of a hostile work environment?

Intimidation – the #1 sign of a hostile work environment.

Hostile Work Environment

While the signs of a hostile work environment vary, the number one sign of a hostile work environment, universal in all cases, is intimidation. Intimidation is the one factor unique to all hostile work environments and it takes many forms.

Bad actors may threaten discrimination victims, warning them not to report their conduct.

They may threaten an employee’s bonuses, income or job security.

They may turn other coworkers against the employee, essentially making them a workplace pariah with nowhere to turn.

But the intimidation can also be less explicit.

Even in instances where there is no express prohibition on complaining, victims are frequently intimidated to come forward and report the discrimination they’ve suffered.

They fear retaliation. They fear for their jobs. In extreme cases, they even fear for their lives.

The conduct they’ve endured may be so rampant throughout the workplace, they may worry just how far the harassment will extend and will feel they have nowhere to turn.

In some circumstances, particularly where the workplace is a municipality, government or law enforcement agency, an employee may truly feel they have no options since they’ve seen the dark side of unbridled authority and know firsthand that the checks and balances intended to stop unlawful behavior sometimes fail.

But even beyond those workplaces, intimidation and the fear it creates is a common thread. This is the very essence of employment discrimination.

Employees need their jobs, and the last thing they want to do is risk losing them.

In some situations, employees fear ever being able to work in their field again and worry their victim status or label as a “complainer” will follow them to other workplaces.

The fear to speak up and assert your rights is common, but so too is the threat of reprisal when an employee does come forward.

Though there are laws in place to protect against retaliation for exercising the rights granted by anti-discrimination laws, instances of retaliation are still common, and even where it is not, the fear of retaliation is strong.

Further, asserting your rights requires courage and the ability to navigate the legal system.

Many times, bad actors are betting on the fact that victims may not be up to the challenge of working with a hostile work environment attorney and bringing a legal claim.

If you believe you may be working in a hostile work environment, once all the legal boxes have been checked, trust your instincts.

If you feel too intimidated to speak up and exercise your rights, or if you have come forward to your employer with your concerns and you still feel the looming threat of retaliation or continued harassment, you may in fact be working in a hostile workplace.

A version of this article originally appeared on Fairygodboss. The full version can be viewed here.

Disclaimer: This blog does not provide legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. Always contact an attorney directly if you are in need of legal advice.

If you found this post beneficial, you might also like 7 Signs it’s Time to Ditch Your Toxic Employer.



To my Firstborn as We Become a Family of Five

January 25, 2018
family of five

It’s been almost three years since we brought you home from the hospital, a tiny bundle of need wrapped in hope and muslin. I still remember your jet-black hair, and your dark, sleepy eyes that looked at me in a way no set of eyes ever had.

When you were born, you made us a family of three. But beyond that, you made us a family, creating roles for your dad and I that we had never before held.

Since that day nearly three years ago, you’ve been our buddy, our constant companion, and our one and only child. You’ve been the center of our universe, the sun by which our days rise and set.

While our love for you will never falter, our lives will soon be changing.

It still sounds strange to say, and even stranger to write, but soon we will begin life as a family of five.

family of five

We always knew we wanted to give you a sibling. We even knew we wanted to give you more than one sibling, eventually. Still, when we learned last summer that we had two babies on the way, it came as a bit of a shock.

You don’t remember, of course, but you were there.

While your dad and I stared intently at the grainy ultrasound screen in the doctor’s office, you danced and played, completely oblivious to the changes that were unfolding that very moment.

The news of your twin siblings momentarily shocked me into another galaxy, but I was quickly brought back to earth by the thoughts and sounds of you.

You, in your tiny beige sweater and brown curls.

You, laughing and playing with such glee.

You, who I had doted on so devotedly.

You, my sweet boy who relied on us for everything.

How would this huge change affect you?

family of five

Of course, I celebrated our news with the joy and cautious hope every mother knows.

I’ve prayed and hoped and wished for your unborn siblings the same way I’ve done for you since before you existed.

I look forward to welcoming our new babies into our lives and giving you the gift of a brother and sister.

Still, as I think of the changes ahead, I also reflect on the time we’ve had together the last three years just the three of us.

Everywhere I look, I see reminders of the joy and fun we’ve had. I scroll through old photos and see a mama with eyes only for you, smiles and laughter frozen in time forever.

I was the quintessential new mom, taking you to museums and art galleries starting when you were just a couple of months old.

You’ve had our full attention your entire life. You became our Third Musketeer, joining your dad and I for outlet shopping, blueberry picking, house hunting, road trips, sightseeing, sushi restaurants, plus, of course, the endless activities–story time, soccer, kids gym, zoo classes, fun runs. We did it all.

family of five

I know the pace of our lives will change when your siblings arrive. As your mama, I know that I will handle the changes the way all mamas handle them, molding and crafting new versions of ourselves as if from clay.

I know your dad will adjust as well, and that together we will work to find a new normal for ourselves and our not-so-little family.

I don’t know how you will take to our new lives though, and, of course, I feel the mom guilt creep in sometimes as I think about the ways your life may be impacted.

Already we’ve had to slow down quite a bit the last several months. From dealing with hyperemesis early on to the sheer pain and exhaustion that seems to never go away with a twin pregnancy, I haven’t been the totally fun mama I always had been.

I’ve given you my love and attention, and I’ve tried to keep things as normal as possible, but in my head and heart, I recognize the changes that have already crept in during the past 7 months.

Still, my love for you hasn’t changed, and, from what I can tell, you are just as happy as ever.

You are my firstborn. You are and will always be my first baby, the little boy who made me a mama.  

While I don’t know exactly what our new lives will look like, because of you, I know what it’s like to bravely enter a new world and discover unbridled joy.

Because of you, I know the strength and potential I have as a mother, and as a person.

And because of you, I know the beauty and the potential of the love that grows from hidden places. I’m so happy to take you on this journey with us.

Love always, mom.


This is the Best Parenting Gift I’ve Received

January 22, 2018
Parenting Gift

My son gave me a beautiful gift the other morning.

It wasn’t a macaroni necklace or a Cheerio birdfeeder (though those are always appreciated).

No, instead, it was a glimpse into his world and the way he has absorbed the love we’ve given him over the past (almost) 3 years.

As parents, we wonder what lessons our children are learning from us. We know we are far from perfect, but we try so hard to do our best and build kids who are strong, happy, and whole.

We respond to their needs on a second-by-second basis.

If there were a parenting playbook, it would have torn pages, scribbles, and a whole lot of question marks.

In other words, it usually feels like a blind endeavor no matter how much you’ve read or how thoroughly you’ve prepared.

But, sometimes you’re fortunate enough to get a glimpse of what’s good–to see exactly what you’ve done right.

That was the gift my son gave me.

Parenting Gift

He shared that gift with me in the way he quickly rushed to my side when I bumped my arm in the kitchen. He ran over, took me by the hand, and urged me to sit down so he could inspect my “injury.”

I knew he learned that from my husband and I, and the way we rush to show concern and love when he’s hurt himself.

He shared that gift with me again later when he assigned a name to an emotion he was feeling, saying that he felt “frustrated” when he couldn’t carry all of his toys at once.

I knew again that this was something he learned from us–the way we try to assign a name to a feeling and how we encourage him to share it with us and ask for help when he needs it.

He then shared that gift with me again when he said he wanted to help me with my socks and shoes before we left the house–something we’ve done so many times for him.

But, since we also strive to instill independence and have been letting him put on his own socks and shoes (no matter how long it takes sometimes), he stopped midway so I could takeover.

He gave an enthusiastic “good job” when I pulled my sock over my heel, echoing a sentiment he’s heard countless times from us. Then, he held the loop on my boot and coached me to “push” my foot down–something we’ve done constantly this winter.

It was wonderful to see all these moments play out in a single morning.

It’s not the first time I’ve seen images of the love and concern we’ve given him reflected back to us, but it was the most recent, and it is always appreciated.

They are reminders that our love matters and our moments matter, and that you don’t have to be a perfect parent to see your love and influence perfectly reflected back at you.

These gifts may be small, but they are mine, and though they cannot be worn around my neck or hung on the fridge, they are tangible, and they are real.

But, like I said. I also appreciate a nice Cheerio birdfeeder when it comes my way, too.

Parenting Gift


How I’m Learning to Say Yes to the Mess as a Mom

January 17, 2018
yes to mess

I took this photo one recent morning while my toddler painted.

yes to mess

Notice the garbage bag I grabbed in a pinch to spare the coffee table from any unruly paint splatter.

I hadn’t even started breakfast yet when the little guy eagerly asked if he could start painting.

To be honest, I would rather he engage in a less messy activity so early in the day, but nevertheless, I helpfully brought out his paints and brushes, along with the handy dandy garbage bag.

I tore a fresh page from his Finding Dory activity book, and watched him immediately get to work, casting broad strokes of blue and green across the page.

When he was finished, he proudly showed me his masterpiece as he always does when he finishes a project.

I placed his artwork on the counter to dry and told him how much I loved it.

And I did. And I was proud of his effort and his enthusiasm, but I was also a little proud of myself.

Remembering to say “yes” as a parent can be difficult.

say yes to mess

I’m not talking about saying yes to the things that warrant a firm “no,” but rather saying yes to the things we generally have no reason to say no to.

For me, the urge to say no usually arises when the activity in question carries the risk of a mess. You know the ones: painting, coloring–basically anything involving arts and crafts.

Plus, there are the kitchen messes, and the laundry messes, and every other mess that results when the little ones want to help with a task.

I’m a bit of a neat freak, so teaching myself to get beyond my fear of the mess has required effort, patience, and even a bit of personal growth.

Sure, there are some times we just don’t have time to break out the painting supplies or to make dinner together, but I’m learning to discern when an activity warrants a no for practical reasons and when I’m tempted to say no out of sheer preference.

Is it always easy? No.

But, it’s becoming easier as I remind myself more and more that my son will grow more from my yeses than my nos–and that I will too.

Are you learning to say yes to something as a mom? Share in the comments or on social media!

Guest Post Working Parent

Guest Post: Tips from a Successful Mompreneur

January 15, 2018
successful mompreneur

Today on the blog we have a guest post from Claire Adams, development expert and Human Resources/Employee Relations specialist.

In her post, Claire shares the inspirational story of a successful entrepreneur and working mother–her sister-in-law, Audrey. In sharing Audrey’s story, Claire highlights the challenges and triumphs of running a successful business while navigating motherhood.

Many thanks to Claire Adams for sharing her story!

sucessful mompreneur

One Mompreneur’s Road to Success: Audrey’s Story

Successful women have always been an incredible source of inspiration because they are amazing role models who have made important life changes to reach their goals. One such woman in my life is my sister-in-law, Audrey, a renowned mompreneur.

If you’re unfamiliar, a “mompreneur” is a woman who is both a mom and an entrepreneur. I’m so honored to know her and to witness her life in person, and I’m proud to share her story with you!

Entrepreneurship is not a 9-5 job

Similar to motherhood, entrepreneurship isn’t a 9-5 job. It requires a lot of time, effort, determination, and money. Some would even say it requires some blood, sweat, and tears, too.

Of course, as an entrepreneur, you establish set work hours, but what about all those hours before and/or after them?

My sister-in-law, Audrey, runs a successful hair salon in Sydney, Australia, and even though she has a professional staff, there are still many tasks that only she can complete.

Additionally, her kids are still young (3 and 4), which can make the workday a bit more difficult when they make a complete mess of her paperwork or download viruses to her computer (it happens!). That’s why she’s learned to take everything with a smile on her face, because no one said that it’s going to be easy!

successful mompreneur

Entrepreneurship is not a 9-5 job.

Give your child the best possible care

Pursuing your career as a mom and an entrepreneur can be difficult, and Audrey knows this better than anyone. Her husband, my brother, Noah, also has a full-time job, which makes it hard for them to organize and care for their children full-time.

To accommodate their schedules, they worked to find an appropriate child care center that would offer everything their kids need to grow into smart and caring young people.

For them, this meant enrolling their kids in the amazing Young Explorers Learning Centre. It was exactly what they were looking for. The center helps children develop a unique set of skills and gain knowledge in a relaxed learning environment, which gives them peace of mind as working parents.

successful mompreneur

Giving your child the best possible care helps you focus as a mompreneur.

Discuss everything with your partner 

Audrey believes that the key to success as a mompreneur lies in discussing every possible issue with your partner.

Having the same financial goals is essential, so be sure to have the same financial orientation as your partner.

It can be a bit difficult if you’re a saver and he’s a spender, or vice versa, so it’s always good to discuss all potential problems and threats.

Audrey and Noah always make sure to understand what the other wants so they can set their future financial goals. When you’re both on the same page, everything runs much smoother.

Once you’ve done that, Audrey advises coming up with a detailed plan to make your goals happen.

Creating a budget is the first step, so do that and stick to it no matter what. Besides that, you should always listen to each other carefully since successful communication is one more step toward achieving your goals!

successful mompreneur

Discuss everything with your partner.

Make sure your work area is well-organized

Finally, make sure you have an organized work area. When your work area is a hot mess, it’s highly likely that you’re going to be disorganized, too. That’s exactly why proper organization is so important and probably one of the most important steps toward becoming a successful mompreneur.

Start with organizing your desk and general office space, which can become easily disorganized with documents, files, and folders. This clutter can make you feel mentally cluttered too, so eliminating it is important.

Cultivate a creative and stimulating working environment that will help you be more productive. This is particularly important when it comes to your home office. According to Audrey, it can be tricky to sort everything out in the beginning. However, once you manage to do that, everything becomes much easier later on!

In conclusion

As you can see, being a successful mompreneur definitely isn’t the easiest task to manage; however, you shouldn’t get discouraged when you hit your first obstacle.

I hope Audrey’s story is one that motivates and inspires you. She is an example of a successful, enterprising woman who has managed to stay focused even when things have gotten challenging. You can achieve the same success.

Finally, remember to always keep your family close since they will be the best reminder of why you work so hard to accomplish your goals so fiercely!

Claire Adams

Claire is a personal and professional development expert who believes that a positive attitude is one of the keys to success. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Many thanks to Claire Adams for her guest post. If you’d like to contact Claire, she can also be reached at [email protected]

How do you make life work as a working mom? Let me know here or on social media!

Interested in collaborating with me? You can reach me at [email protected].