What Is A Hostile Work Environment?

A hostile work environment is not simply a workplace where people listen to music you don’t like or where someone likes eating lunch at their desk and crunch annoyingly on their food. A hostile environment must involve behavior that makes carrying on with your responsibilities impossible and the behavior must be discriminatory. This discrimination may include rude comments on your race, age, religion, sexual identity, and more.

Factors that Cause a Hostile Work Environment

It’s not just a matter of behavior that you find unpleasant. A hostile work environment may include:

  • Continuous actions that discriminate towards someone simply because they are members of a protected classification such as gender identity, sex, religious beliefs, race, or age.
  • Behavior or words that are repetitive, pervasive, and happen over an extended period of time towards a certain individual.  If the off-color remarks happen just once or twice, they should be reported to Human Resources and followed by an intervention.
  • The employee has complained several times about this unpleasant behavior and no response has taken place, been investigated, nor addressed effectively by the person in authority within the organization in order to put a stop to it.
  • The hostility towards the employee, made evident through words or actions, must be severe and seriously interrupt the employee’s ability to carry on with their job responsibilities.
  • If these unpleasant actions continue, they may end up affecting the employee’s career progress, robbing them of the opportunity to receive a promotion or other job recognition.
  • If the employer has been made aware of this situation and has not intervened strongly or timely enough, the employer can end up being liable for the creation or for the support of a hostile work environment.

How should you deal with a hostile work environment?

If you have been the victim of any of a hostile work environment, the first step you should take is to talk to whoever is engaging in this unpleasant behavior and ask them to stop. If this is difficult for you to do, you may request a manager to intervene or, if that is not possible, ask Human Resources to do so.

It may work in your favor if other employees become aware of the hostile behavior and also of your request to the offending party to stop. You may discover that they were not aware that their behavior was being perceived as discriminatory or inappropriate, and they may stop.

Beware of Retaliation

If the offending party has been reported to your employer or Human Resources department, they may become upset because of your actions and decide to retaliate against you. If this is the case, you should know that retaliation is illegal.

Ask for Help

If you are getting desperate and are considering hiring an employment attorney, you should know that it is imperative that you first request that the offending party stop what they are doing. If that doesn’t yield the desired results, you must have approached either a manager of Human Resources and given them the opportunity to investigate and take action. It is only after these avenues have been exhausted that you should consider taking legal action. You may be surprised to discover that your employer takes the proper actions as soon as they become aware of them.

Adam Hansen

Adam is a part time journalist, entrepreneur, investor and father.