Hostile Work Environment Harassment: Why You Should Talk About It?

Everyone interprets a hostile work environment adversely. According to some individuals, a hostile work environment can be caused by a terrible supervisor, uncomfortable working conditions, a nasty coworker, inability to pass for a raise, failure to collaborate, or a lack of rewards, advantages, incentives, and appreciation.

With ultra retention of hostile work environments and attributed hostility at sanctums, the allegiance of throwing light while mooting it with follow-up factors and remedial effects becomes all the more pertinent, apart from the general obligation of combating it in the face of commonality.

Referring to ILO’s introductory statement, the UN aims to promote efficient conditions of social justice and work for workers through international labor standards. In addition, it is an incentive for women and male workers to engage in productive work while creating parity and self-respectful conditions at the workplace.

Workplace harassment can have detrimental effects on a person’s psyche apart from the apparent and self-revealing physical state. As per a Gallup poll, 67 percent of American workers are distracted at work, 51 percent are constantly searching for or open to a new job, and 47 percent believe this is a great way to find a decent job.

It further covers repeated and intentional incognito – verbal, emotional, social, and drastic physical abuses, causing a sterile working environment for victims and witnesses.

RAND questioned almost 3,000 workers from July to October 2015 for its American Working Conditions Assessment. The data showed that over 20% of American workers are subjected to a hostile workplace.

Issues of Hostile Work Environment

Hostility resulting in harassment can cover a wide range of actions, often closely analyzed on a case-by-case basis, allowing room for dismissal or belittling of perspectives. The main underlying requirement is that it must be repetitive and offensive by the standard of a reasonable person.

With useful distinction from quid pro quo, workplace harassment can be more brutal to prove to file a lawsuit against the perpetrator(employer or colleague).

Certain instances to establish a ground for argumentation or probe are as follows:

  • Offensive/ inappropriate joking.
  • Obstruction of movement and undertakings within the office.
  • Frequent comments about physical appearance.
  • Forwarding wrong media through office messaging systems.
  • Mocking or teasing for a protected characteristic.
  • Violations of personal space.
  • Using indecent gestures.
  • Using crude language.
  • Sabotaging the victim’s work.
  • Or using derogatory terms or epithets.

Fortunately, few remedial measures are there to heal the inundated sanity of an individual if not cure completely or another way few preparations needed to be made when in pursuit of advancing for a lawsuit:

  • Confront the harasser about the emotional distress – known or unknown to him!
  • Write a note to the alleged perpetrator while keeping a copy of the same for future substantiation.
  • Review the company’s sexual harassment policy.
  • Seek support from HR personnel or a supervisor.
  • (If it’s proved that the company was not aware, they might not be held liable for the hostile work environment harassment.)
  • Document everything and keep a command chain!
  • Who was present, including the harassers and witnesses(if any?).
  • The time and day of harassment.
  • Frequency of harassment.
  • The interactions between you and the harasser with details.
  • Request copies and backups of related materials in case of retaliation.
  • Reinforce zero harassment stance to mitigate accidental cases along with training your workforce against such possibilities

EEOC Guidelines

What comes at last but is of extreme vitality and reverberation is filing a complaint with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which enforces the Civil Rights Act(1964).

Furthermore, intimidating the employee can be obscure. Therefore, one needs to look for tangible signs of a hostile work environment. As per US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission – Harassment causing a hostile work environment is unwelcome conduct based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age.

However, what needs to be comprehended is that not every unpleasant work environment is illegal and liable for detention. The EEOC states that petty slights, annoyances, and isolated incidents are not substantial grounds for filing lawsuits. Say, if someone makes inappropriate yet non-discriminatory jokes at a coworker, or if a team member is overworked and belittles, their conduct may not qualify as illegal. 

Companies should take the initiative to eliminate minor issues that indicate harassment because a respected environment encourages employee performance and productivity. A single act of misbehavior may create a hostile workplace for a person, but it is unlikely to establish a hostile workplace that affects the entire company.

Types of Hostile Work Environment

If a coworker makes inappropriate jokes or comments, they will face repercussions. On the other hand, if an individual is placed within the position of a competent authority, making such comments a habit can create a hostile work environment. To point out, several other signs point towards job dissatisfaction, like scarcity of resources, absenteeism, job insecurity due to layoffs, unruly behavior, etc. In many cases, applicants are refused for being of a certain age; foreign-national; gender pertaining contention. 

Passive-aggressive behavior or unhealthy competition, though not offensive or unpardonable, can be red flags. Cyberbullying, although delinquency in its skin, ridiculing, or victimization on its basis can also be hostility apart from being extremely harassing.

Harassment complaints, which include allegations of hostile work environments, account for roughly 10% of all EEOC charges filed in FY2019.

The most traumatizing hostile work environment cases are those where the entire organization contributes to the notorious “skewed cultures” where women or LGBTQ people are frequently targeted and “idle banters’ leading to fostering a hostile workspace. Majorly on the page lies reputed organizations – Uber and FBI(Federal Bureau of Investigation) – for racial and gender prejudices. Victims can buy in from executives and present data on complaints and information on legal risks for effectuation.

As per the Department of Labor’s Harassing Conduct Policy, the conduct to be categorized as harassment needs to be:

  1. Subjectively abusive to the person affected.
  2. Objectively severe and pervasive, to create a workspace, a reasonable person would find offensive.

As per the DOL, factors determining the severity or pervasiveness are:

  • The frequency of the discriminatory conduct.
  • If the behavior was physically threatening/ humiliating, or offensive utterance.
  • Whether the behavior interfered with work performance.
  •  Employee’s mental wellness is impacted.
  • If the assaulter was a “senior” in the company.

(Each factor is reviewed, but none are required or sufficient.)

If a supervisor’s harassment leads to a negative employment outcome such as dismissal, refusal to promotion, or hiring, the employer is immediately responsible. Only when the employer can demonstrate the following:

  •  He tried to prevent and correct the harassing behavior.
  • And the employee acted irrationally by failing to take advantage of every corrective action offered by the company.


Bringing in the emotional component, besides the rational status quo, the use of the word ‘victims’ might be erroneous as they were the witness of broken work culture and society, who carry its true fidelity! Withal, in few scenarios, workplace harassment might be a condition for employment, a grim reality! Many companies consider abuse and the development of a hostile work environment to be behaviors that merit dismissal after a thorough inquiry. Allow the supervisor to do the right thing.

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