A hostile work environment can negatively impact workers and the company alike. This is why it’s important to know what behaviors are considered criteria for a hostile work environment and nip them in the bud before they escalate into a legal concern.
In a survey conducted by Gallup, it has been found that 13% of employees are disengaged in their work and may end up spreading these feelings of negativity to their colleagues. A hostile work environment can be a significant factor in this dissatisfaction.
What Is a Hostile Work Environment?
Under federal law, a petty slight towards a coworker or a superior does not qualify a workplace to be tagged as hostile. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines a hostile work environment as a workplace with “unwelcome conduct based on race, color, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, older age, disability, or genetic information.”
What Behaviors Are Considered Criteria for a Hostile Work Environment?
It Is Discriminatory
Discrimination can extend beyond denying a person a job due to protected characteristics such as race, sexual orientation, or age. Take, for example, a workplace bully who outrightly makes discriminatory jokes or comments towards their colleague.
This act of workplace discrimination can create a hostile work environment impacting large groups of people in the workplace.
It Is Unwelcome
A hostile work environment is one where unwelcome behavior is propagated. This can include offensive behavior such as sharing graphic or vulgar images at work. Another example is sexual harassment at the workplace, which can be punishable under federal law.
It Is Pervasive
An isolated offensive comment will not necessarily warrant a hostile work environment case. However, when this behavior is pervasive in the workplace, it can cause significant stress on the affected employees.
It Is Disruptive
Hostility in the workplace will eventually lead to a disruption in an employee’s ability to work. Petty slights and annoyances are common and are not grounds for workplace hostility. However, if they are recurrent and targeted towards only a person or a specific group of people in the workplace, this can disrupt the workplace due to high-stress levels.
It Is Threatening
A hostile workplace is where employees are under constant fear of bullying or discrimination. This occurs when employees are threatened at work due to their race, sexual orientation, and other protected characteristics.
What to Do When a Coworker Is Creating a Hostile Work Environment?
Hostility in the workplace is something that should not be tolerated. Companies should address workplace hostility at the first signs to avoid it escalating to levels that employment laws can punish.
Tip #1: Speak With the Person Involved
Once you are aware of workplace hostility, schedule a meeting with the person or people involved in creating a hostile work environment. Speak to them calmly and professionally and help them realize the effect of their actions.
Tip #2: Establish Guidelines
Every company should be guided by a code of conduct in the workplace. This is a guide to help employees understand the work culture and act appropriately in the workplace.
Tip #3: Encourage Open Communication
Encourage your employees to speak up when they feel workplace hostility. Foster a culture of open communication in the workplace.
Tip #4: Get Legal Advice
You must understand the legal requirements of a hostile work environment case and what it can mean for your team or organization.
Tip #5: Document It
Document all the steps you have taken as a manager in dealing with hostility in the workplace. This will ensure you have the documentation you need to deal with the issue internally and for legal ramifications.
Tip #1: Speak Up
One way to stop hostility at the workplace is to call out the perpetrator. When dealing with hostility, make sure that you speak with your coworker professionally and have someone to witness your conversation.
Tip #2: Report It
75% of acts of hostility in the workplace go unreported. If you feel like your coworker is creating a hostile work environment, report it immediately to your supervisor. If this issue involves your direct manager, address your concern to a higher authority.
Tip#3: Provide Evidence
When you feel ready to report, make sure you have some evidence to back up your complaint. This can be in the form of messages, witnesses, or pictures.
Tip#4: Ask for Help
If you have experienced being exposed to a hostile work environment, don’t be afraid to seek help. You can approach your employer or human resources for advice. Dealing with a workplace bully can also take a toll on your mental health; make sure that you also look out for your mental well-being.
Tip#5: Take Legal Action
A hostile work environment is not something that has to be tolerated. There are several federal laws and regulations backed up by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that protects employees from hostile work environments.
Looking for more HR tips and guidance?
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