What is a hostile work environment?

Federal and state anti-discrimination labor laws, in many countries, protect the employee from a hostile work environment.

Ideally, a person’s work environment should be one in which the employee is comfortable, their levels of creativity and productivity are recognized and promoted, aligning personal goals with corporate goals and objectives.

Such environments can lead to rewarding feelings for employees; they will feel more involved and committed to the organization, which results in more income and better results for the company.

However, sometimes work environments can make employees feel uncomfortable rather than safe, creative and relevant. In these cases solutions must be provided so that workers can maintain their physical, mental and emotional health in their work.

If in your place of work you are subjected to continuous and staggered jokes, you are discriminated against because of your sexual orientation, race or nationality, or you receive intimidating or instigating treatment, you are likely to be the victim of a hostile work environment. Let’s examine this concept and its scope.

What is a hostile work environment?

A hostile work environment is one in which an employee does not feel comfortable performing his tasks due to the actions of his colleagues or employer. In extremely hostile environments, the employee may feel uncomfortable even when arriving at work facilities.

For Mashellawllc.com a hostile work environment occurs in the presence of harassment in the workplace, an offensive, intimidating, oppressive atmosphere and unfounded fears by a harasser who may be a supervisor or worker.

We can cite the definition of Fairygodboss.com based on The Balance, who give context to the hostile work environment in the following terms:

“A workplace where inappropriate comments or behaviors based on discrimination of gender, sexual orientation, age, ethnicity, nationality, religion, among other legally typified characteristics, significantly undermine a worker’s work performance or create an intimidating work environment or offensive to an employee ”

We can summarize the definition of the term hostile work environment as a work environment that is consequently intimidating or offensive to a worker.

Situations that foster a hostile work environment

The site fairygodboss.com shares a list of signs that can allude to the presence of a hostile work environment:

  • There is no opportunity for progress: nothing more enthusiastic than feeling trapped.
  • The work is completely monotonous and boring, there is marginalization and there is no opportunity to try other tasks
  • Despite a good performance, the instigating treatment prevails
  • A smaller amount is paid to others; there is a gender or ethnic bias
  • There is discrimination due to some personal condition

A work environment can also be considered hostile when co-workers or an employer make inappropriate lascivious jokes or gestures, that is, in the presence of sexual harassment, or when unwanted comments are made about age, gender, race or physical competence or mental of an employee; everything in a repeated way.

Even if most colleagues do not have problems with actions or comments, but a single employee feels uncomfortable in the workplace, it is a hostile work environment.

Usually, it causes an employee to be emotionally and mentally incapable of performing tasks related to their work. However, it can also be one in which an employee is physically threatened.

It can include acts of violence, instigation or being forced by an employer to do forced tasks that can put at risk the physical health of employees.

Other examples of a hostile work environment include:

  • That the employee who has hours or wages lower than others for refusing to do a job beyond the scope or domain of their duties
  • Being threatened with dismissal if lascivious acts are reported
  • That an unreasonable workload be assigned in response to problems with senior management

The hostile environments may also include the fact that an employer openly ignore the concerns of employees or respond to these concerns in an adverse way.

Those who are exposed to a hostile work environment have the legal right to sue their employer. However, those who want to sue must report any coincidence related to the hostile environment within 45 days of the incident.

Because employers can be sued for hostile work environments, it is important to know what situations are not considered harassment. For example: isolated incidences of comments or actions, such as a racial joke, which can not be taken as evidence of a hostile environment.

The actions have to be repetitive in nature and serious enough to make the employee feel constantly uncomfortable in the workplace.

However, any incident that may lead to a hostile environment must be formally documented so that there is support in case of needing evidence for a future lawsuit.

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