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What Are the Signs & Examples of a
Hostile Work Environment?

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C.L. Mike Schmidt Published by C.L. Mike Schmidt
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A hostile work environment refers to situations where derogatory comments, unwelcome advances, or unwelcome conduct related to any of the protected classes occur in a workplace. 

Employers who participate in or implicitly allow hostile behavior in the workplace can be subject to punitive measures, including legal action.

If you, or someone close, suffer from inappropriate behavior at your place of work, Schmidt & Clark has the resources to gather evidence to substantiate hostile work environment claims and prove the harassment occurred.

Quick Summary

  • Behaviors considered criteria for a hostile work environment are sexual harassment, discrimination, victimization, and consistent aggressiveness.
  • Some tangible signs of hostile work environments are absenteeism and frequent conflict.
  • Employees who suffer from a hostile workplace can file a claim against their harasser and may recover punitive damages to compensate them for their losses.

What Behaviors Contribute To A Hostile Work Environment?

Two people arguing in the office

Behaviors that contribute to a hostile work environment are any kind of discriminatory action and harassment based on protected characteristics.

Here are some examples of hostile environments:

    • Racial/sexual harassment – Employees subjected to unwanted comments about their national origin can suffer serious psychological and emotional harm [1]. Sharing sexual photos, discussing sex acts, or making sexual comments are also all behavior that may create an unpleasant work environment.
    • Intimidating behavior – Intimidating behavior, such as threats or physical violence, can also create a toxic workplace. 
    • Discrimination – Making decisions in the workplace based on discriminating factors such as age or sex creates an unfair workplace where everyone is not treated equally.
    • Aggressiveness – Examples of aggressiveness include physical violence, swearing, shouting, shoving, and using threatening language.

However, it is essential to note that some unwelcome conduct may not be considered as criteria for a hostile work environment, such as:

  • Minor actions were quickly addressed by supervisors [3];
  • Swearing if it is not in connection with an employee’s religion;
  • Isolated incidents of inappropriate behavior;
  • Specific behaviors that a target may consider to be annoying rather than offensive.

The harasser can be anyone in the workplace, including a supervisor, coworker, or even a customer or client. The victim does not have to be the person harassed but can be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.”
Neal Bridges, Employment Attorney at Jackson Spencer Law

What Are The Signs Of A Hostile Work Environment?

A boss scolding his employeeThe signs of a hostile work environment are frequent arguing among employees, gripes about underpayment, or lack of recognition.

The signs of a hostile workplace can also manifest in other ways, such as absenteeism.

The human resources department is also more likely to witness employees constantly filing complaints indicating underlying issues with the work climate overall.

Related Article: What is Discrimination in the Workplace?

What Is A Protected Class?

A man reading a paper about what is a protected class

A protected class is a trait that individuals cannot or should not be forced to change about themselves. 

Both U.S. federal and state laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (CRA), protect these protected traits, such as:

  • Race;
  • Color;
  • National origin;
  • Religion;
  • Gender;
  • Sexual orientation;
  • Disability
  • Age;
  • Veteran Status [2].

Related ArticleWhat is Considered Harassment at Work?

How Can A Victim File A Hostile Work Environment Claim?

A victim filing a hostile work environment claimHostile behavior that targets an individual due to belonging to any of the protected classes above can violate state or federal discrimination laws.

Victims of workplace harassment may seek redress by filing a hostile work environment claim.

To pursue justice in the face of workplace harassment, it is recommended that one seek out a qualified employment law attorney to compile evidence and aid them in filing an official complaint with relevant government authorities.

The attorney will likely advise you to collect the following evidence:

  • Document the harassment – To protect yourself against any potential harassment in the workplace, document it with a first-person narrative that outlines what occurred. Taking detailed notes of these occurrences will help to create an account of events and make it easier to investigate the situation [6].
  • Get a copy of company policies – Knowing the company policies is essential to protect yourself in case of any violation. An official copy can be acquitted in the form of an employment contract, employee handbook,  a manual, or formal memos issued by policymakers within the company. It may serve as evidence for stronger legal cases if needed.
  • Preserve all formal communications – It is essential to keep a record of all formal communication containing inappropriate language. This covers everything from voicemails and text messages to emails or physical letters. 
  • Approach potential witnesses – It is essential to seek the assistance of those around you in situations involving harassment. Speaking with employees or bystanders who witness an incident can bolster your case significantly.
  • Maintain a copy of your file – Maintaining a record of noteworthy accomplishments in the workplace, such as performance reviews lauding exemplary work ethics or glowing customer feedback, provides undeniable evidence to support any unjustified claims that may come against you. Your personal file may also prove that offensive behavior negatively impacted your career progression. 

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FAQs

What Behaviors Contribute To A Hostile Work Environment?

Behaviors that contribute to a hostile work environment are sexual harassment, discrimination of any kind, violence, victimization, and many other forms of offensive behavior.

How Can I Prove A Case Of A Hostile Work Environment?

You can prove a case of a hostile work environment by documenting emails, letters, text messages, or voicemails demonstrating harassing language and preserving all formal communications.

If coworkers or bystanders witness you being harassed and agree to testify on your behalf, it can also prove a case of a hostile work environment.

Hire A Hostile Work Environment Attorney

A toxic work environment negatively affects productivity and well-being; therefore, it is crucial to prevent such occurrences from taking place in the workplace. However, if any discriminatory practices come into play, all employees must be aware of their rights for protection from such behaviors when present in a work setting. 

At Schmidt & Clark, LLP our team of attorneys has years of experience in representing victims of hostile work environments and can help you get the compensation you deserve.


References:

  1. https://resources.workable.com/stories-and-insights/hostile-work-environment-signs-fixes
  2. https://www.dol.gov/agencies/oasam/centers-offices/civil-rights-center/statutes/title-vii-civ

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