When you get to work at your federal office in Washington, D.C., your stomach automatically clenches with nervousness as soon as you step through the door. Bullying, discriminatory practices, nasty gossip, backbiting and cruel remarks made by a supervisor at the expense of uneasy employees commonly happen there.
Many workers are disconcerted by what is going on, but everyone is fearful of retaliation if they complain. For that reason, silence reigns – and people quietly suffer.
Is this extremely toxic atmosphere legally considered a hostile work environment?
The above scenario is fictional, but uncomfortable situations like the one described may exist throughout the nation. However, just because your workplace is tough to tolerate doesn’t mean it meets the legal criteria for a hostile workplace.
To be considered a hostile work environment according to Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, “the abusive conduct must be related to the employee’s race, sex, religion, etc. (otherwise known as a protected characteristic) in order for the mistreatment to be unlawful under Title VII and related laws.”
So if, for example, a supervisor is brutally critical of all employees, the behavior isn’t illegal under Title VII. But if he or she acts harshly and specifically targets, for instance, females who work in the office, that could be considered illegal according to Title VII.
What constitutes a hostile work environment?
Circumstances like these are important:
- How often discriminatory behavior occurs
- How severe the behavior in question is
- If a supervisor’s actions are literally “physically threatening or humiliating” or just rude or distasteful
- Whether the boss’s actions are disrupting an employee’s ability to do his or her job
No one wants to be in a workplace where a boss’s actions or words are hurtful. Figuring out if your office is truly a hostile work environment according to the law may require the help of an experienced attorney.