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What is a hostile work environment?

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Harassment in the workplace can make it a challenge just to get through the day. Victims of misconduct can be scared, uncomfortable and unable to focus on what they need to do. As a result, their performance may suffer, and they could experience emotional distress or anxiety.

Someone in this situation may be experiencing a hostile work environment.

Signs of a hostile work environment

A hostile work environment is one that involves pervasive or severe offensive conduct that would make a reasonable person feel threatened or intimidated.

However, not all types of harassment are overt or blatant, which can make it difficult to know for sure if you are in a hostile work environment. Some signs you should look for include:

    • A manager or boss who is frequently aggressive towards others
    • Physical violence or forceful actions
    • Statements intended to ridicule, embarrass or belittle you
    • Unwanted physical touching
    • Unwanted sexual advances
    • Displays of offensive material
    • Mistreatment based on your age, religion, race or other protected characteristic

If these actions or situations are ongoing and affect your ability to do your job, you could have grounds to file a harassment claim.

Know your legal options

There are laws in place to protect employees from harassment and discrimination at work. If an employee, supervisor or employer violates these laws, you could wind up suffering job loss, financial damages and emotional trauma. As such, if you feel you are in a hostile work environment, you should know what you can do to protect yourself.

First, report any harassment or misconduct to your supervisor or Human Resources. Document the activity, as well as any conversations you have about it. Determine if your employer takes appropriate action or if he or she fails to respond. If your employer fails to act or punishes you after filing a complaint, keep track of this, as well.

This information can provide critical evidence if you pursue a legal claim against a colleague or employer for violations of your employee rights.