What is a Hostile Work Environment?

What is a Hostile Work Environment?

While it is normal for jobs and coworkers to cause us stress from day-to-day, it is never acceptable for an employee to endure harassment while at their job. Depending on the conduct and the conditions of employment, inappropriate behavior from someone at work can even give rise to a hostile work environment, which is unlawful.


What type of conduct creates a hostile work environment?

Most cases of hostile work environments involve incidences of harassment taking place. Illegal harassment is a form of employment discrimination, and is defined by the Department of Labor as unwelcome conduct that is subjectively abusive and based on a “protected trait”–that is, a trait protected by either federal or Florida state laws. This includes an employee’s race, religion, national origin, disability, age, color, sex, pregnancy, genetic information, or marital status. Engaging in workplace harassment that is not based on any of these protected qualities is wrong (and possibly worth reporting) but usually not considered illegal. Harassment could be in the form of verbal conduct, like jokes, slurs, or threats. It could also mean physical action, like inappropriate touching or violent assaults.


What circumstances create a hostile work environment?

It’s important to remember that not all cases of harassment at work (even ones that amount to illegal discrimination) will give rise to a valid claim for a hostile work environment. According to the EEOC, a case for a hostile work environment must not only show unlawful harassment but also how the harassment is tied to the employee’s job, whether that means:

  1. Enduring the continued conduct becomes a continued condition of employment; or
  2. The harassment is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider hostile or abusive.


These factors do not leave a clear-cut idea of what creates a hostile work environment. For that reason, incidences of harassment in claims for hostile work environments are evaluated by weighing variables such as the frequency of the conduct, its severity, whether the conduct was physical or verbal, whether it interfered with work performance, and its effect on the employee’s psychological well-being. Harassment in such cases is typically pervasive over a given period of time, but it’s possible that even a single occurrence could be enough for a successful claim if the severity of it would make a reasonable person consider the environment to be hostile, or abusive. Keep in mind that a harasser’s position does not make them immune from creating a hostile work environment. It could be a supervisor, manager, CEO, coworker, or even a non-employee in some circumstances. 


What should I do if I believe I have a hostile work environment?

If you think you are being targeted for harassment as an employee, we encourage that you meet with an attorney to determine what protections apply to you and if you have been illegally discriminated against. You should also seek legal help if your employer is retaliating against you for making a claim of discrimination or harassment.

For more information on workplace sexual harassment, visit our page here.

To set up a free consultation about your case, call (727) 786-5000 or visit our contact page to submit details. 

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