Hostile working environment

What does Hostile working environment mean?

A hostile working environment is created when the behavior of the employer or other employees alters the reasonable expectations and conditions or terms of employment to such an extent that the employee is uncomfortable and is unable to complete their work. All unpleasant, rude, or hostile employment actions, however, do not meet the legal definition of "hostile." In fact, the actions or behavior generally have to be discriminatory in nature.

Legal requirements of a hostile work environment

First, the actions must discriminate against the employee due to their disability, race, religion or age. The actions must also continue for an extended period of time. One or two sexist jokes are not enough to create a hostile work environment. The actions must be pervasive, significant, not addressed by the employer, or stopped.

Additionally, the racist, sexist, or discriminatory nature must be severe and disrupt an employee's ability to complete their job. For example, if a woman is not promoted or continually harassed for being a female, this could be considered a hostile working environment. One or two isolated sexist jokes, even if they make the female worker uncomfortable, will not rise to the level of a hostile work environment.

Finally, a hostile work environment is also created if the employer is notified of the illegal action and fails to investigate the claim or stop the harassing behavior. If all three of these requirements are met an employee may be able to hold the employer liable for creating a hostile work environment.

Dealing with a hostile work environment

The first step when dealing with any severe, long-term, employment issue is to contact the manager or report the problem to the Human Resources department, especially if attempts to discuss the issue with the offending party have failed to solve the problem. Employers should immediately investigate all employee complaints and detail steps which they have taken to eliminate the discriminatory actions. Failure to report the hostile actions to the Human Resources department could limit your future legal options.

Legal options for a hostile work environment

Most employers realize a hostile work environment is detrimental to employment productive and can lead to increased absenteeism, lower productivity, morale problems, and legal claims for workers' violation of civil rights.

If you have been the victim of a hostile work environment or have questions about your legal options against your employer, you can contact an employment lawyer for more information.

In some cases the hostility or allegations of harassment can be reported to the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC). If they decide your case warrants consideration they will investigate the case and determine the nature of the conduct, and the context in which alleged incidents occurred, and decide if the hostility of the environment is severe or pervasive enough to be considered illegal.

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