Understanding a hostile work environment and your rights

Hostile work environments occur when inappropriate behavior results in harassment that makes employees feel unsafe and makes it impossible or hard for them to do their job. From a legal standpoint, workplace harassment is a type of employment discrimination. 

Harassment violates the Americans with Disabilities Act, Age Discrimination in Employment Act and Civil Rights Act. However, many people aren’t aware that they are dealing with this work environment nor have legal means to stop the actions. 

What is legally considered a hostile work environment?

On a federal level, a hostile work environment has the following characteristics:

  • Hostile conduct or behavior that is long-lasting
  • Hostile behavior that is not investigated or addressed
  • Harassment by a leader or manager that causes negative retaliation for an employee

In some situations, it’s required that a hostile work environment be classified as harassment for legal action to be possible. 

Handling a hostile work environment as an employee

If you believe you are a victim of harassment due to a hostile work environment, knowing what to do can be difficult. The behaviors common in these environments are designed to undermine your support network, well-being and confidence in the workplace. 

It’s important to realize these issues won’t resolve on their own. Usually, they only worsen, causing more issues for you and others. You have legal resources through your HR department and other avenues. To address harassment issues in the workplace, you should use the following steps:

  • File a complaint with your company’s HR department
  • Get any evidence related to the harassment
  • Ask witnesses if they will make a statement on your behalf if necessary
  • Seek outside legal advice

Protecting your rights when workplace harassment occurs

Harassment is illegal. If you are a victim of this in your workplace, you have rights. The only way to protect these rights is by knowing what they are and acting promptly.