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What Is a Hostile Work Environment?

A hostile work environment is one where one (or many) employees suffer from intimidation, abuse, harassment, discrimination or other offensive behavior caused by someone in the workplace.

The “villain,” so to speak, can be a boss, a co-worker, an employee from any department, clients—or even suppliers, contractors, or guests. Their malicious behavior can range from disparaging comments based on race or gender, to screaming and other forms of verbal abuse and humiliation.

This behavior can make the work environment so inhospitable/unbearable that it affects productivity. The victim may spend so much avoiding or worrying about the next attack that he or she cannot focus on official business. It can also create, long term, a culture of suspicion, lack of respect, and poor general morale—factors that can easily lead to fast employee turnover and lack of teammanship. Thus, it is in the best interests of management to correct hostile work environments and nip any form of abuse and harassment in the bud.

While there is no one law against hostile work environments, employees can file for discrimination cases if the bullying is based on race, religion, color, nationality, age, sex or disability. The courts, however, will look for proof that the harassment was done repeatedly and in a severe manner, and that the victim was not able to “fight back” because it could lead to losing his or her job. There are also legal bounds for filing cases against sexual harassment.

Normally, however, victims cannot file a civil case, but can look for internal support from company management. Most companies have an employee code of conduct that discourage abuse and harassment, and can sanction or fire violators.

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