What is a Hostile Work Environment?

From rude bosses and annoying coworkers to office hazards that need repairs and lack of employee benefits, many people often use the term “hostile work environment” to describe undesirable unpleasant work conditions. However, a hostile work environment means that the conduct of your employers, managers, or colleagues is discriminatory toward a protected group of people—based on race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, etc.—and negatively affects your ability to work. 

Discriminatory conduct can result in a hostile workplace environment when such behavior must be persistent, severe, and pervasive enough to create an abusive and hostile situation that disrupts an employee’s duties, and the employer must be aware of the situation but fails to address and/or stop it. Discriminatory behavior or comments that happened once or twice is generally not enough to be viewed as a hostile work environment. 

Common examples of discriminatory conduct include: 

  • Telling offensive jokes about a protected group 

  • Using insults, slurs, and other insensitive terms 

  • Showing racist or sexually suggestive pictures or videos 

  • Using sexual language 

  • Unwanted touching 

  • Making inappropriate gestures 

  • Interfering with work performance enough to sabotage a worker's duties or career 

If an employee is being harassed by a supervisor, then the employer can be held liable for creating a hostile work environment because the supervisor acts on behalf of the employer. On the other hand, if the worker is being harassed by a coworker, then the victim must demonstrate that the conduct was reported, and the employer failed to properly remedy the issue. 

Therefore, an employer must show that it took reasonable steps to prevent and immediately address any harassment, or the victim failed to take the necessary steps provided by the employer. Employers should investigate all forms of potential harassment, even if it doesn’t meet the definition of a hostile work environment. 

If you are dealing with a federal employment law issue in Atlanta, Baltimore, or Houston, contact Pines Federal today at (888) 898-9902 and get a legal team with more than five decades of combined experience on your side. 

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