What Is A Hostile Work Environment?

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What is a hostile work environment?

What actions or behaviors contribute to creating a hostile work environment?

When does a hostile work environment become illegal?

A hostile work environment is an environment that is offensive or intimidating and affects the ability of a worker to perform their job. In most cases, the hostile work environment must be severe or pervasive. This means that it typically must happen more than once to be considered a hostile work environment. There are exceptions, however, and one severe incident may be enough to create a hostile work environment. Additionally, small repeated offenses over a long period of time may also be considered to contribute to a hostile work environment.

These are just a few of the types of harassing actions or behaviors that contribute to hostile work environments:

  • Stereotyping people based on their race, national origin, color, gender, or accent
  • Racist or sexual jokes, remarks, stories, or comments
  • Posting racist or sexual posters, photographs, cartoons, or images in common work areas
  • Using racist slurs
  • Being demeaning
  • Talking about sexual activities in front of other employees
  • Indecent gestures
  • Unwelcome touching
  • Unwelcome advances

When is hostile work environment illegal?

If the hostile work environment is a result of actions or behaviors based on one of the protected classes under Title VII, then those actions may be illegal. The protected classes include race, color, age, religion, national origin, sex, and disability. The hostile behavior must discriminate against one of the protected classes for it to be illegal.

If a person is motivated by racism or sexism and creates a intimidating, hostile and offensive work environment for their coworkers, then the coworkers can take legal action. Workers have protections under Federal and state laws. Workers who have suffered as a result of a hostile work environment can sue their employer. Employees can successfully win compensatory and occasionally punitive damages in many cases.

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