7 Signs You’re in a Hostile Work Environment

Do you dread going to work every day because you are constantly harassed, shamed, or belittled at the mercy of others in your workplace? You are not alone. In 2022, Forbes reports that a toxic work environment is the #1 reason that people leave a job.

What is a Hostile Work Environment?

A hostile work environment is a place of work where unwelcome comments and conduct unreasonably affect an employee’s ability to perform his or her work as a direct result of the inappropriate behavior. This harassment may be based on an employee’s gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, age, level of ability, or any other legally protected status. The unwelcomed behavior could be from a supervisor or manager, co-worker, or even a client, vendor, contractor, or visitor. Regardless of whether the person who is behaving inappropriately is an employee or not, employers are responsible for regulating the actions and behavior of all people involved in company business.

While these comments and conduct may be directed toward one particular employee, he or she is not the only person in the workplace who may be affected by the inappropriate behavior. Other employees who witness the harassment are also considered victims and may also have a legal claim against the employer for hostile work environment, even though they are not the direct subject of the behavior.

If you are wondering whether the behavior in your workplace rises to the level of a hostile work environment, consider the following signs:

  1. Verbal or non-verbal anger and aggression 

While anger is a normal and healthy human emotion, appropriately handling one’s emotional reactions at work is a common necessity in a professional setting. If you experience your boss, co-worker, or another person in the workplace displaying serious and disturbing anger and aggression, whether verbal or non-verbal, you may be in a hostile work environment.

  2. Public shaming 

Sometimes, professional discipline is necessary in the workplace to hold all employees accountable to their responsibilities. However, you should never experience public shaming as a form of discipline to coerce you into doing your job in a certain manner.

  3.Using unfair tactics to prevent employees from growing within the company 

Typically, employees growing and developing to move up the ranks within a company is something most employers enjoy and even strive to foster, but sometimes there may be a supervisor or manager who would rather stifle their employees’ drive and dedication in order to secure the better or higher-paying job for themselves. You should never experience a boss actively participating in holding you back from moving up within the company through adverse performance reviews or other unfair disciplinary action.

  4. Encouraging unhealthy levels of competition 

Fostering healthy and fun competitions between either individual employees or entire departments or teams of people can sometimes be helpful to boost morale and increase productivity. However, if you experience management encouraging unhealthy and divisive levels of competition which is unnecessary and prohibits teamwork, and which causes others to engage in bullying, harassing or other offensive conduct, you may be experiencing a hostile work environment. 

  5. Scapegoating 

Scapegoating is the practice of blaming one person for everything that goes wrong, even if they had nothing to do with it and the mistake was not their responsibility. You should never experience a consistent scapegoat situation in the workplace, where you are the one being unfairly blamed for things, subjected to harassing emails or undue and biased scrutiny.

  6. Blatant and severe favoritism 

While scapegoating and blaming someone for every mistake creates a hostile work environment, so does blatant and severe favoritism. Choosing one person, or even a few people, to consistently allow to “play by different rules” or be treated unfairly favorably fosters a hostile work environment as those who are not favored begin to resent those who are, hindering teamwork and morale in the workplace.

  7. Failure to create and maintain a safe work environment 

It is every employers’ responsibility to create and maintain a safe work environment for all employees. The United States Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) works to “ensure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance.” This includes physical, psychological, and emotional safety.    Under California Labor Code Section 6401:  “Every employer shall do every other thing reasonably necessary to protect the life, safety, and health of employees.”

What do I do if I’m in a hostile work environment? 

If you are in a hostile work environment, it is important to remember that you have rights and protections under the law. Both federal and California state laws protect California workers from this type of conduct in the workplace.   It is important to provide written complaints and documentation to your supervisors and to human resources.  You should always conduct yourself appropriately in the workplace, treat everyone with respect, and conduct written correspondence in a polite, straight forward manner. 

If this is your reality and a hostile working environment persists, the attorneys at V. James DeSimone Law are here and ready to help. When you need the highest quality counsel to protect your rights as worker, you can trust that you will always have direct access to an attorney with an in-depth knowledge and experience in this field. To schedule a consultation, you may call us today at (310) 693-5561.

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