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What qualifies as a hostile work environment?

On Behalf of | Dec 27, 2023 | Firm News

Getting along with everyone in the workplace is not always possible. There may be times when you face off with rude colleagues or an abrasive manager. As trying as they may be, these bad habits do not necessarily qualify as a hostile work environment. More than just being offensive, the behaviors in question must be objectively abusive.

Hostile work environment definition

The U.S. Supreme Court defines a hostile working environment as one where employees experience unwelcome harassment that is so severe or frequent that it makes the workplace abusive.

Actions that constitute retaliation, harassment, discrimination of any kind and violence are generally unwelcome conduct. However, they must occur consistently and intentionally to qualify as hostile. A single incident could result in disciplinary action for the offender, but not enough to constitute hostility unless it is exceptionally severe.

Everyone at work, from your coworkers to your boss, clients and customers, can create a hostile workplace. If someone at your job behaves so inappropriately and often that it makes you fear for your safety or hinders your ability to work, you might have a case.

Examples of what can constitute a hostile work environment

Many factors can make the workplace feel unsafe and toxic. However, there are a few common themes, often involving protected characteristics and targeting minority groups. A few examples are:

·         Repeatedly threatening female employees

·         Repeatedly making offensive comments about gender or sexual orientation

·         Repeatedly spouting racial slurs

·         Constantly victimizing specific people because of their race or other protected characteristics

·         Putting up offensive symbols or images and refusing to remove them

Keep in mind that this list is not exhaustive. An employment law attorney can help determine if your workplace is objectively abusive.

What actions are not hostile?

The court may not constitute a person’s actions as hostile unless they occur consistently and reference protected characteristics. A few examples are:

·         Acting rudely toward an employee without referencing gender, race or other protected characteristics

·         Using profanity that does not include racial or ethnic terms

·         Teasing, bullying or gossip

·         Calling an employee a derogatory word on one occasion

Although such conduct may be disrespectful, it falls short of the criteria for hostility. However, your employer must still take them seriously and, if necessary, take disciplinary action.

If the hostility in your workplace is the result of one person’s actions, reporting it to your employer could help solve the issue. It also gives them the opportunity to address the behavior. However, taking action might feel intimidating if these destructive behaviors are embedded in your work culture. In such cases, consulting with an employment law attorney can provide guidance and support.