What Makes a Hostile Work Environment?

Employment practices liability is a very common concern within the workplace, which has brought up the question among both employees and employers “What constitutes a hostile work environment?” There are many factors that contribute to an environment that may not be friendly or supportive of employees. Some employees believe that the lack of career development and opportunity, a bad boss, an unpleasant work environment, a rude coworker, failure to qualify for a promotion, or the lack of perks, privileges, benefits, and recognition can create a hostile work environment. All of these can play a part in creating an environment that seems hostile to an employee’s wants and needs.

A Hostile Workplace, Explained

For a workplace to legally be considered hostile, there are certain criteria that must be met, such as a boss or coworker whose actions, communication or behavior make performing one’s job impossible. This typically comes in the form of alternations of the terms, conditions, and/or reasonable expectations of a comfortable work environment for employees.

Also, the poor treatment would need to be considered discriminatory in nature, not just obnoxious. For example, a coworker who tells sexually explicit jokes and sends images of nude people is guilty of sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment, or a boss who criticizes someone for their age, religion, gender, or race is also guilty of creating a hostile work environment, no matter how the comments were meant to be interpreted.

Legal Requirements

The legal requirements that constitute a hostile work environment:

  • Actions/behavior discriminate against protected classifications (age, religion, disability, or race).
  • Behavior/communication is pervasive and lasts over time (not limited to an annoying off-color remark or two).
  • A significant and pervasive issue that is not effectively addressed by the organization in efforts to put an end to the behavior; or reason to believe the employer knew about the actions or behavior and did not sufficiently intervene.
  • Severe hostility that disrupts the employee’s work or career progress.

Dealing with a Hostile Work Environment

The first step in addressing inappropriate behavior at work is for the victim to ask the inappropriately behaving boss or coworker to stop. If an employee finds this difficult to do, they should seek help from a manager or Human Resources.

It is important that the offender is promptly notified that the behavior will not be tolerated. Typically, they will then stop the behavior, as they may not have realized the degree to which the actions were offensive.

However, those who have experienced a hostile work environment, and attempted to make the behavior stop without success should go to their manager, employer, or Human Resources staff. Employers must be given the opportunity to investigate the complaint and eliminate the behavior.

About World Wide Specialty Programs

For the last 50 years, World Wide Specialty Programs has dedicated itself to providing the optimal products and solutions for the staffing industry. As the only insurance firm to be an ASA commercial liability partner, we are committed to that partnership and committed to using our knowledge of the industry to provide staffing firms with the best possible coverage. For more information about Staffing Professional Liability Insurance or any other coverage, we have available to protect your staffing business, give us a call at (877) 256-0468 to speak with one of our representatives.