What can I do About a Hostile Work Environment?

Understanding Hostile Work Environments

A hostile work environment is one in which certain workplace behaviors create an atmosphere that causes significant discomfort and distress to an employee or employees. The conduct must be offensive and severe in nature, and it must happen over a period of time. For instance, one offensive episode isn’t enough to establish a legal foundation for filing a claim. A hostile environment can be the result of the behavior of both supervisors and other management personnel and peers.

Documenting Incidents

If one or more people in your workplace are making offensive comments or otherwise making you feel so uncomfortable that it interferes with your work and your general sense of well-being, the first thing you need to do is to start keeping written documentation of every incident so that you’ve got something to show an attorney if and when the time comes to file charges against your employer.

Keep in mind that a hostile work environment can also occur when management takes a retaliatory stance against an employee for actions such as reporting safety violations, trying to organize or join a union, or becoming injured while on the job.

Impact of Hostile Work Environments

Hostile work environments negatively impact those affected by them in a variety of ways. For instance, if you’re experiencing substantial harassment or discrimination in the workplace, you may feel reluctant to go to work, have difficulty concentrating on your job, and have an overwhelming desire to leave your job even though you formerly enjoyed the work. A hostile work environment can also have negative effects on the quality of your life outside of the office. You may have difficulty sleeping, feel depressed, and find yourself experiencing more personal conflicts with family and friends than usual.

Examples of Hostile Work Environments

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is one of the most common elements of a hostile workplace. Sexual harassment comes in several forms. For instance, it can be verbal, written, or physical. Both women and men can be victims of sexual harassment, and the person filing the claim doesn’t necessarily have to be the primary victim of the harassment — if the actions create an environment that would cause a reasonable person to feel intimidated or have difficulty performing the duties of the job, that person might have grounds for filing a sexual harassment lawsuit.

Race-Based Harassment

Race-based harassment is generally specific to physical characteristics. This type of harassment takes the form of jokes, overt or covert racial slurs, or offensive visual material displayed in the workplace or distributed via email. Other examples include race-based stereotyping and race-baiting conversation.

Ethnicity-Based Harassment

Ethnicity-based harassment is very similar to harassment based on race. The difference is that ethnicity refers to cultural factors rather than physical ones. Typical ethnicity-based harassment may take the form of jokes or slurs concerning foods and beverages, holidays, or cultural traditions associated with a particularly ethnicity.

Age-Based Harassment

Age-based harassment refers to offensive comments or actions directed at older workers. Common forms of age-based harassment include cartoons, jokes, and commentary based on the person’s age.

Pregnancy-Based Harassment

Pregnancy-based harassment is similar to sexual harassment and may include crude jokes and commentary of a sexual nature. However, pregnancy and related subjects such as birth control, breastfeeding, and abortion are central to the harassment rather than purely sexual themes. Like the other types of harassment listed above, pregnancy-based harassment doesn’t have to be directed at you. If you are negatively affected by it, you may have a case against your employer.


Emotional damage isn’t the only consequence of being forced to endure a hostile work environment — these situations also have the potential to prevent you from progressing in your career. Please feel free to contact us at your convenience if you feel that your employer is cultivating or allowing a hostile work environment.

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