I talk to about 80 people a day about all sorts of Illinois legal issues with the hopes of either answering their legal questions or recommending the right attorney for them. In 11+ years I’ve heard almost every story imaginable and certainly have noticed many common themes in what people perceive the law to be compared to what the law actually is. By far the most misunderstood law in Illinois is what exactly constitutes a hostile work environment.
Around ten times a week I’ll get a call from someone who wants legal advice or even to sue because of their hostile work environment. Some of these callers have been fired after complaining about a hostile work environment and want to sue for retaliation. Almost all of these people have nothing to go on.
Basically, it’s not illegal to create a hostile work environment unless it’s being done for illegal reasons. In other words, if your boss screams at you, tells you that you are stupid, gives you more work than you can handle, laughs at you, makes you feel awful, etc., that in of itself is mean, immoral, wrong and completely legal.
It would only be illegal and a case if you can prove that the awful treatment you are receiving is for illegal reasons such as your race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, because you complained about sexual harassment or anything else that is protected under Illinois or Federal law. If it isn’t for that or you know it is, but can’t really prove it then you have nothing.
And while it might sound strange that you can get fired for complaining about a jerk, you can and that’s just the way it is. You might get unemployment, but a lawsuit would go nowhere.
I’m not sure where the idea of a hostile work environment came from. It was probably perceived by TV or the media from old time stereotypes of men slapping their secretaries on the butts. But for the most part it’s really a myth.
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