Sometimes, people use the term "hostile work environment" in reference to nearly any unpleasant work situation: A rude boss, obnoxious coworkers, an unpleasant office or lack of benefits. It's true that these issues can make a work environment very undesirable, but they do not necessarily meet the legal definition of a hostile environment.
Technically, a hostile work environment is a workplace in which the conduct of supervisors or coworkers has created a discriminatory environment that a reasonable person would find so abusive or intimidating that it impacts the ability to work. If you are wondering whether your current work conditions could be considered a hostile work environment, continue reading for a list of requirements and examples.
What counts as a hostile work environment?
Your situation may meet the legal requirements of a hostile work environment if:
- The behavior is discriminatory against gender, race, religion, age, orientation, disability or nation of origin-- categories protected by the Equal Opportunity Commission
- A reasonable person would find the work environment hostile or abusive
- The conduct has become a pervasive and long-lasting problem
- The employer has failed to investigate and address the issue
- The victim's desire or ability to work has been affected
- The employer knew about the hostile behavior but did not adequately intervene
Examples of a hostile work environment
Merely being teased or excluded by your colleagues is rude, unprofessional and possibly a firing offense, but it is not necessarily legally hostile. Consider these examples of hostile work environment harassment:
- Discussing sex acts or using sexually suggestive language
- Telling offensive jokes about protected categories of people
- Making unwanted comments on physical qualities
- Displaying racist or sexually inappropriate pictures
- Using slurs or insensitive terms
- Making inappropriate gestures
- Sabotaging an employee's work or career
- Unwanted touching
Dealing with a hostile environment
The first step is to address the conduct with the proper authorities at your job. If this is not possible, or if you have tried it and the situation did not change, the next option may be litigation. An employment attorney in your area can help you fight to stop the behavior and receive compensation. If your workplace has become discriminatory and hostile, you do not have to suffer alone.