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Signs You Are in a Hostile Work Environment

Dealing with workplace-related stress is a natural aspect of any job. The emotional and mental strains created by a hostile work environment, however, can raise the personal stakes to unacceptably high levels.

Learning how to recognize this type of harassment when it occurs is the first and most significant step in dealing with its effects.

Hostile Work Environment


Basic Definition

Recognizing a hostile work environment begins with learning how it’s defined. To be considered legal, the environment must arise from discriminatory workplace harassment based on key factors such as skin color, disability, race or religion.

The harassment must be severe, pervasive and recurring. Those who claim harassment must reasonably believe that no other alternative existed if they expected to keep their job.


Sexual Harassment

Reporting harassment based on a sexually hostile environment ranks among the most common claims. Examples can range from offensive remarks about body parts, clothing and looks, to touching or other intentional contact that makes employees feel uncomfortable.

Lewd jokes and gestures are covered, as well as sending or soliciting sexually suggestive e-mails, images, letters and notes.


Nonsexual Harassment

Making negative or disparaging comments about an employee’s age, ancestry, disability, religion or skin color can also be used to demonstrate a hostile work environment. Gestures or pictures that may offend particular ethnic groups are another sign.

Rude or boorish behavior, however, isn’t addressed, unless it’s directed at a group protected by federal law, such as people with disabilities.


Subtler Signs

Attempting to escape potential legal problems may lead to subtler forms of harassment that could still qualify for legal protection, depending on the circumstances.

These may include sudden scheduling changes; assignments to responsibilities above an employee’s capabilities; outright threats of firing if the worker doesn’t quit; and refusal to communicate expectations for particular tasks.


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