Terrorized by a Hostile Work Environment? Read our 7 Essential Tips! (2022)

If you’ve worked in a hostile work environment, you know the mental and physical toll it can take on you.

Perhaps, one of the reasons it takes such a toll is due to the feeling of helplessness to change the situation.

In this article we’ll discuss some tips and resources available to help you deal with a hostile work place and take control of a difficult situation.

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What is a Hostile Work Environment?
Workplace Bullying ≠ Hostile Work Environment
Nursing in Hostile Work Environment

Can I Sue for a Hostile Work Environment?
Hostile Work Environment Bullying
Other Countries: Canadian Law

Hostile work environmentis any situation that makes a person feel constantly uncomfortable at their place of employment.

With potential consequences to both your physical and mental health – it isimportant to fight against hostile work environments. Even if it means using the legal system.

However, in order for an employee to utilize the legal system, there must beproof of inappropriate conduct.

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Situations that are considered a hostile workplace have been defined by various Federal Laws. This includes the Civil Rights Act of 1964. These laws describe inappropriate conduct in which a person isharassedordiscriminated againstdue to:

  • race
  • religion
  • gender
  • national origin
  • age
  • ordisability.

Furthermore, the hostile environment must be pervasive and severe. And to a level that deviates from the terms and conditions of a person’s employment.

It must create an environment that is abusive and not conducive for an employee to operate in, thereby affecting the quality of their work.

The test is generally would a reasonable person find the environment to be hostile or abusive?

TheEqual Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)agency is responsible for investigating claims of this nature.

One important distinction to bear in mind is that the law is not meant to protect against simple teasing, brusque comments or isolated situations that are not serious.

In other words, if a boss is yelling at everyone (in an offensive manner) it may create a hostile space.

But this may not become problematic in the eyes of the law unless a particular person is singled out on one of the previously mentioned grounds.

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Definition: What is a Hostile Work Environment?

Many employees believe that a lousy boss, a rude co-worker, or an unpleasant workplace constitutes as a hostile work environment. Others might believe it’s a lack of privileges, perks, and benefits.

However, in order for a workplace to be hostile, specific legal criteria must be met.

The definition of a hostile work environment is created when an employee feels uncomfortable or fearful in his or her work-space. And this fear or discomfort is due an employer or coworker whose actions or behavior make doing their job impossible.

This includes; offensive behavior, intimidation or verbal or physical abuse.

The actions, communication, and behavior must be discriminatory in nature.

What is the EEOC?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a Federal agency in the United States which enforces employment laws.

View our detailed article on how to submit issues to the EEOC and how the EEOC can help you.

Workplace Bullying ≠ Hostile Work Environment

Workplace bullying DOESNOTconstitute a hostile work environment.

Unfortunately for anyone being targeted by a workplace bully, the law in most parts of the U.S. says that behavior is perfectly legal.

As discussed above, the term “hostile work environment” only applies if the behavior is harassment or discrimination. And it’s the EEOC,the federal agency that regulates employers on this issue, that has set the boundaries. According to the EEOC,harassment or discrimination is only happening if it’s “based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.”

But here’s a few glimmers of hope.

First, your city may have it’s own laws prohibiting workplace bullying, so do a little research on that.

Second, it is quite possible that bullying could be considered workplace violence.

According to OSHA, the federal agency that regulates employers on this issue, it defines violence as ranging “from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and homicide.”

Of course, realizing you are the target of violence at work is not good news. But using this knowledge may help make your case to HR and get their attention if you use explain the issue in these terms.

If you’d like to know more about workplace bullying? Why it’s happening to you? Why HR won’t pay attention? And what you can do to prepare for your conversation with HR, then check out the eBook:

What Every Target of Workplace BullyingNeeds to Know!

This eBook covers an extensive numbers of issues, & practical steps you can take, including:

  • The difference between bullying vs mobbing
  • Dealing with HR, EAP, Insurance Companies, Union, and Health Care Professionals
  • How regain your happiness
  • Taking back your career

We’ve read the book and found it be a helpful resource. If you make a purchase via this link, we may receive a small commission.

Nursing in a Hostile Work Environment

Surprisingly for those outside of the healthcare industry, nurses often deal with hostile work environments. This is often characterized as nurse bullying upon initial observations.

Stressed patients and nurses are often the result in this toxic work environment.

Hostile work environments within nursing has resulted in many nurses giving up the profession.

If you are a nurse, the good news is there are steps you can take to help improve your situation.

Nurse bullying expert Dr. Renee Thompson, discusses what you can do if you are a nurse suffering from nurse bullying in a special article written for Forensic Notes via the link below.

Learn More About Bullying in Nursing

How to Document & Prove a Hostile Working Environment

A person who alleges ahostile working environmentmustproveit exists. Proof requiresdetailed examplesthat arefact based. This means you need to keep detailed documentation.

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When writingnotes on your work environment, it is important to remember that the burden of proving this allegation is on you. Sadly, it falls on the person being bullied or harassed to prove it, which can often cause an additional emotional burden.

The validity or otherwise of a allegation is determined on an individual case basis. Thecourts consider the frequency and severity of the alleged actionsthat created the hostile working environment. This includes whether the hostility involved physically threats and if it interfered with the person’s ability to perform their assigned duties.

To prove that the treatment has been severe and pervasive, the employee has to show they werespecifically targeted.

This means proving that the offender washostile toward a specific employee. Courts generally will make a determination by assessing if the offender was objectively hostile toward a reasonable person of the same gender.

They generally review the objective condition from the perspective of a reasonable person who knew what the employee knew at that time.

1. Use Your Company’s Internal Complaint System

If you feel you are working in ahostile work environment, make an official internal complaint first.

Understandably, you may worry about getting into trouble or being retaliated against by your company. However, you should bear in mind that you generally have legal protection in such situations.

Federal law and some state laws protect those who file such accusations. And it is unlawful for an employer to retaliate or take punitive actions against an individual who complains about discrimination and harassment.

Even if your claim is found to have no merit or validity, the law still protects you as an employee.

How to Prove a Hostile Work Environment

1. Use Your Company’s Internal Complaint System
2. Obtain Evidence of Company Awareness
3. Take Note of Witnesses
4. Research the Laws Applicable to Your Situation
5. Seek Legal Advice

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2. Obtain Evidence of Company Awareness

It’s important to beable to prove that management was aware of the harassment, or that they should have been aware of it. To do this, you need to begin by documenting dates, times, places and other details of any meetings or discussions at which you reported the situation to the appropriate people in your company.

This is a crucial part of proving your case. Which goes back to why it is a good idea to alert your manager or supervisor immediately that you feel that you are working in a hostile work environment.

Even if it is simply an informal meeting where you voice your concerns, you should definitely tell someone in a supervisory role above you. Regardless of their reaction, you may also make an appointment with the Human Resources Department.

Document all of these meetings, as it can help prove that the harassment was pervasive, and that management was complicit in their conduct by doing nothing about it.

3. Take Note of Witnesses

If you experience harassment be aware of any witnesses that might have seen what took place.

Your case becomes much stronger when it is supported by a third party.

Document their names, contact details and exactly what they observed, so that you can let your lawyer know about this person later down the line.

If possible, have them provide you with a written statement either physically or via email.

Include the email or scanned statement within yourForensic Notesaccount to ensure it is properly archived andtimestamped.

Your lawyer may want to contact them to determine if they have a credible account of the events that took place, and if they are willing to testify.

4. Research the Laws Applicable to Your Situation

Conduct some of your own research to determine what laws might apply to your situation and your employer.

For example, Federal anti-discrimination laws in relation to disabilities do not apply to companies with under 15 employees. Another example, if the complaint revolves aroundage discrimination, then they must have at least 20 employees.

One valuable resource isThe Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) . The EEOC is a Federal agency in the United States which enforces employment laws that prohibit discrimination in the workplace. To learn more about EEOC read our in-depth article.

If the Federal law cannot help you, research your local state or provincial laws on discrimination.

5. Seek Legal Advice

Search for alawyerwho specializes in discrimination,wrongful terminationor evenemployment law.

Try not to procrastinate with making that call, and do not worry about having money upfront for the legal fees.

Typically, you can obtain a free and private consultation to go over your claim with many reputable lawyers.

If the lawyer feels you have a strong case of harassment that escalated to ahostile work environment, many will work on a contingency fee agreement.

Can I Sue for a Hostile Work Environment?

Terrorized by a Hostile Work Environment? Read our 7 Essential Tips! (8)

Employeescan sueforhostile work environment,discriminationorharassment.

An employer has a responsibility to their employees once they are made aware of ahostile work environment. If an employer doesn’t takethe initiative to fix the problem, then the employer can be held liable for the discrimination and harassment.

However, it is quite different if the employer is not engaging in the alleged activity or isn’t made aware of the situation. It is unlikely that the employer will be held responsible for this form of harassment.

This is especially true if the employer has a program or process in place that allows employees to submit grievances. Then questions will be asked why the employee didn’t take advantage of the program or process.

To be successful in their claim of a hostile environment, employees shouldkeep detailed recordsof any instances of harassment to serve as evidence.

6. Keep proof of negative impact on your health or job performance

Save any performance reviews that you have received from your job.This is a great way to prove that the offensive conduct has affected your performance at work.

Keep any medical records that show you started seeking medical or mental health help around the time that you are claiming the harassment occurred.

Gathering evidence is so important when it comes to establishing a credible timeline and a coherent case.

You can start your claim by going directly to theEEOCor equivalent state administrative agency, but that does not preclude you from seekinglegal advicefirst.

7. Document Everything

Documentas much as you can, once you feel that your workplace has become hostile.

Preserve all communication that will make for a detailed account of what happened.

This includes recording dates and times, storing emails, notes, letters and voicemails and other evidence that can strengthen your case.

Petty occurrences or a onetime example of unwelcome conduct will likely not qualify in court, but it is good practice to document it. Even if it is the first time it occurs.

This is how you form a credible pattern. You never know what will be the only instance versus a recurring patter of instances.

And when you document, make sure your documents can stand up to scrutiny later incourtor before any arbitration forum your case ends up in.

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Court-Ready Documentation is Vital

The authenticity and reliability of your documents and evidence is very important. Your case stands or fall on the basis of the evidence you provide.

For this reason, it is critical to ensure that the authenticity and validity of your documents can be proven. If you can not, you may be accused of havingfabricated the date or noteafter your case went to court.

Forensic Notes’ document storage and verification system takes care of such concerns by protecting the integrity of all your documents.

With Forensic Notesall yourdocuments are timestampedand protected from tampering. The obvious benefit is youhave a better chance of being able to submit them as credible and authentic evidence before theEEOCor in court.

Ahostile working environmentis not something anyone should have to endure. Such as environment can have lasting mental and physical health impacts, along with negatively affecting your career.

If you feel you’re in a hostile working environment, find out what your options are and take the right steps to free yourself from that situation.

Hostile Work Environment Bullying

We’ve read the book and found it be a helpful resource. If you make a purchase via this link, we may receive a small commission.

Hostile Work Environment Bullying can be quite separate and unique from the normal day to day hostile environments that people often work within.

The bullying by an individual (or group) towards another individual (or group of employees) can grow within these hostile environments. This is often due to the ‘anything goes’ business atmosphere that is often allowed to exist. This usually is because of management and their lack of effort to ensure a safe and professional work environment.

Hostile Work Environment Bullying can be directed towards an employee or group with the intention to degrade, humiliate, intimidate, or undermine that employee

Read our article aboutBullying in the Workplaceto better understand Bullying within Hostile Work Environments.

Canadian Law

Like our neighbours to the south, in Canada there has been a lot of discussion about workplace bullying and harassment over the past few years.

The message is clear:

Such behaviour will not be tolerated.

However, there remains a lot of confusion regarding what constitutes harassment or bullying, and what to do about it.

To begin with, there is no law that requires people to be nice.

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Occasionally you hear some people complain about bullying and harassment, but upon further questioning, the only examples they can provide are that:

  • their boss did not consistently say good morning
  • their boss or co-workers spoke harshly at times
  • they had been criticized for not doing their work properly.

Again, there is no law against being less than civil. There is also a very big difference between managing and harassing.

Constructive criticism, or even criticism generally, does not constitute harassment in and of itself. Even if it is not delivered in a nice way.

That being said, when the behaviour crosses the line into harassment or bullying, then the employee will have recourse available to them.

That can include a constructive dismissal claim, since it is an implied term of the employment relationship that the employer will provide a safe working environment. Another claim could be pursuant to Occupational Health & Safety legislation.

Any employee who feels as though they are being harassed should consult the applicable workplace policies and register their complaint with Human Resources Department. If there is none, then with whoever is identified as the appropriate recipient.

They should never allow the employer to dismiss the complaint without looking into it, or to trivialize the conduct.

If you need further legal advice on issues around workplace harassment, bullying and employment law we recommend you read these excellent articles by lawyer Stuart Rudner:

Termination for Just Cause Article
RudnerLaw – Canadian Employment Law Firm

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Rudner Law

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