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Elements of a Hostile Work Environment

Work environments are different in every company because people have differing behaviors and management styles. Sometimes, these behaviors can make the work environment so uncomfortable for certain employees to the point of quitting because they fear going to work.

When one or more employees are exposed to behaviors that are abusive or offensive, it is called a hostile work environment. This could be a co-worker or anyone else in the workplace constantly making comments based on someone’s protected class, telling offensive jokes or displaying offensive photos. There are standards in place to ensure that work is a comfortable environment for everyone.

Protected classes

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 states that employers must not discriminate based on color, national origin, race, religion, sex (gender), sexual orientation or transgender and gender identity. There are other laws covering discrimination based on age and disability. Any actions against an employee that are based on the employee being a part of any of these protected classes are unlawful and should be reported.

Proving the harassment

There are certain items needed to qualify the situation as a hostile work environment. These primarily include:

  • The harassment was unwelcome
  • The harassment was based on inclusion in a protected class
  • The harassment was severe enough that it created an abusive situation
  • The harassment was done to create a hostile environment

What isn’t covered

Unfortunately, bullying and obnoxious behavior not specifically directed to one or more classifications of employees does not qualify as a hostile work environment. Employees must still rely on internal company policies and procedures for reporting such events.

There is protection for employees against discrimination. This protection also extends to employees who are closely associated with people in a protected class, through marriage, birth or other close, personal relationships.

Those who feel they are being harassed based on any of the above should report the hostile work environment immediately.

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