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Definition of a Hostile Work Environment

Aastha Dogra Nov 20, 2018
Facing a hostile work environment but don't know what plan of action to take? This write-up tells you what constitutes a hostile environment, followed by measures that should be taken to protect oneself against it.
A hostile environment can be defined as one in which a particular employee or a group of employees are harassed, abused, and discriminated against by their seniors, coworkers, clients, or any other person in the organization.
A hostile work environment leads to circumstances in which the person/persons finds it very difficult to perform to the best of his/their ability. To make the definition of hostile environment and workplace harassment clearer, let us understand it through some examples.


Hostility in the workplace can be faced in the form of verbal abuse, where a senior manager is rude or yells at an employee, causing him a lot of stress.
Sexual harassment caused by a coworker or a boss towards a female employee is considered an act of hostility. Age discrimination in the workplace, discrimination on the basis of race, disability or gender discrimination―all create and come under a hostile work environment.
Any kind of physical threat or bodily harm risk to the employee at his workplace from a fellow employee or a senior manager falls in this category too. It is not just the spoken or obvious that is considered hostility, but certain unspoken actions and deeds too fall in this definition.
For example, an employee who has gotten injured at the workplace, has joined a union, or has reported certain safety violations observed at the workplace to some authorized body, may be forced by the management in a number of ways to quit and resign from his job.
The management may find fault with the employee's work for no obvious reason, may reduce his salary, or use a number of other pressure tactics, just to make him resign.
All these actions taken by the organization fall under the category of harassment at the workplace. Companies take such actions as they do not want to compensate for unemployment benefits, and want the employees to quit themselves.
Let us see what options employees have when they find themselves in such a situation. What actions should they take and what kind of laws have been formulated by the government to protect them against hostility and employment discrimination.


In case an employee is physically threatened at work, he should immediately leave his workplace and report the matter to the police.
If an employee has faced sexual harassment or has faced racial discrimination, he or she should respond by telling the perpetrator to stop his behavior or action immediately.
If the actions continue, the next step is to inform the management about it, preferably in writing, so that the employee has proof. If the management fails to deal with the issue in an appropriate manner, an employee can sue the company by filing a case against them.
As far as federal laws are concerned, there are none to protect a person against a hostile working environment. However, laws such as the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, do protect against hostile environment in an organization, under some specific conditions.
An employee who is facing hostility at work has to first of all file a charge under any of the laws mentioned with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) or with the state's equivalent, through an attorney. There might be some state laws formulated as well to protect him, so those should be considered too before filing the charge.
To be successful in such a lawsuit, an employee should see to it that he does not himself, at any point, act with hostility at his workplace, as all the actions of the employee are scrutinized too in the court, along with the management's.
Also, as court cases can be very expensive, an employee should understand that in case he loses, he will have to bear the cost of the lawyer as well as the court.
That's why it is important to consider all the options such as talking to higher management or taking help from a government agency such as department of labor, before considering to sue the company when faced with such a situation.