6 Signs Your Work Environment Is Hostile (and What to Do About It)

Did you know that at least one out of five Americans face a threatening or hostile environment at work? The research conducted on over 3000 Americans by RAND Corporation also revealed that almost 55% of people face potentially hazardous work conditions.

If you are facing a hostile work environment, it is vital to know what to do to get help and also how to prove a hostile work environment. If you feel that your workplace is hostile, there are high chances you are not alone. Many people suffer in silence.

Read on to know more about a hostile work environment and how best to approach it.

What Is a Hostile Work Environment?

This includes any unwelcoming comments or actions from an employer, supervisor, coworker, client, visitor, manager, or any other person, that affects an employee’s productivity or self-esteem. Anyone who commits or promotes such behavior can be guilty of making the workplace hostile.

Suppose a person’s comments create an intimidating work environment for you. You have the right to make a harassment claim. Apart from the direct victim, other employees who witness the harassment are also considered as victims.

Here are some of the signs of a hostile work environment.

  • Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is prevalent, and it can be physical, verbal, or non-verbal. This includes comments or gestures that are sexual. Sexual harassment also exists as a quid pro quo, such as exchanging sexual activity for a promotion or job offer.

There is a big difference between annoying or difficult behavior and a hostile behavior or situation. Therefore, a coworker who snaps their gum, leans over your desk, or talks loudly is only rude and obnoxious; they do not legally create a hostile environment.

However, if they start sending you images of nude people, tell you sexually explicit jokes, or touch you inappropriately, they can be guilty of creating a hostile work environment and sexual harassment in the workplace.

  • Offensive Jokes or Mockery

If your coworker or supervisor talks about your race, gender identity, religion, or more in an offensive manner, you have a right to file a complaint against them. Anyone who verbally mocks you about who you are is guilty of being hostile, even if they are doing it with a smile or as a joke.

  • Threats

You should feel safe at your workplace. Therefore, any comments or action that affect your performance is considered hostile. The act or behavior must also be discriminatory.

This also includes your employer or supervisor’s threats to fire you, cut your pay, or any other unjustifiable punishment.

  • Slurs or Insults

If your supervisor or employer constantly uses offensives while talking to you or your coworkers, you have enough reason to say that the workplace is hostile. This does not matter even if they insult you to try to motivate you.

If the insult occurred only once or twice, it would not be considered a hostile work environment. Therefore, before making a claim, you should first establish that it is persistent.

  • Discrimination

If your employer discriminates against you or your coworkers based on skin color, religion, marital status, or more, you can make a complaint against them. A hostile work environment claim is a discrimination offense under federal law.

You will have to prove that the discriminatory actions or comments infringed your civil rights. When the conduct becomes a condition of keeping your job, you have reason to make a claim.

Any unwelcome comments or actions that affect a person’s civil rights and their job are considered hostile. Such behavior is guided by the U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

  • Physical Assault

In several cases, rudeness, petty fights, annoyances, petty insults, personality conflicts, and other isolated incidences cannot contribute to a hostile environment. However, they should all be investigated because the behavior can be against the workplace policy.

If your supervisor physically assaults you or encourages workers to engage in unhealthy competitions that result in violence, they are guilty of being hostile.

What Qualifies as a Hostile Work Environment?

It is essential to know the legal requirements that qualify a behavior to be hostile. A hostile environment is created when anyone commits harassing conduct or comments based on a person’s:

  • Age
  • Gender identity
  • Religion
  • Race
  • Sexual orientation
  • Disability
  • Nationality
  • And any other legally protected characteristics

For an action or behavior to be considered hostile, they must be:

  • Disruptive to a person’s work
  • Severe, persistent, and pervasive
  • Malicious behavior that was not addressed by the employer

If the harasser is a supervisor, the employer is held liable because the supervisor or manager acts on their behalf.

What to Do When Being Harassed

There are several ways to handle a hostile work environment. If you feel harassed at your workplace, you should:

Ask the Harasser to Stop

One of the first things you should do is ask your harasser to stop their behavior politely. If you feel threatened by them, you may want to ask someone to talk to them instead of trying to approach them on your own.

Make an Official Report

If they do not stop, you should report them to your immediate supervisor, employer, or to human resources. It is the employer’s responsibility to create a safe and healthy work environment for all employees. This includes a harassment-free workplace.

Your employer should take their time and investigate the complaint at length. They should talk to your coworkers with an open-minded approach to get to the truth. The human resource or your employer should then put the harasser on notice.

Seek Legal Help

Only seek legal help for hostile work environment cases if your employer is aware of the situation, and you have given them enough time to handle it. Otherwise, the lawsuit will flounder.

To defend themselves, employers must show that they took the right measures to address the harassment and prevent it quickly or that the victim did not take advantage of the preventive measures provided by the employer.

Get Help When Dealing With a Hostile Work Environment

If you are experiencing or witnessing a hostile work environment, you should take the right steps to report. Such behavior is very unhealthy, intimidating, and it can affect a person’s performance and overall well-being.

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