Intimidating work environment
As a legal practitioner, I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to clarify exactly what constitutes a hostile work environment.
When it comes to employment discrimination, there are several laws intended to protect employees.
While the signs of a hostile work environment vary, the number one sign of a hostile work environment, universal in all cases, is intimidation.
Intimidation is the one factor unique to all hostile work environments and it takes many forms.
The fear to speak up and assert your rights is common, but so too is the threat of reprisal when an employee does come forward.
Though there are laws in place to protect against retaliation for exercising the rights granted by anti-discrimination laws, instances of retaliation are still common, and even where it is not, the fear of retaliation is strong.
Cursing, casual joking, rudeness, petty slights, nitpicking, bossiness and unpleasant behavior, on its own, are not enough to bring a hostile work environment claim. An employer who routinely blows their lid, creates a threatening and intimidating work environment, and generally treats their employees poorly will be protected under the law if their conduct is deemed unrelated to a protected class.The term “hostile work environment” carries legal significance that goes beyond workplace unpleasantness or even general bullying.For a hostile work environment to exist, there must be an overarching protected class.For conduct and/or speech to rise to the level of a hostile work environment in these cases, the conduct must be intentional, severe or pervasive, and directly interfere with the employee’s ability to perform his or her job.
For workplace conduct to be deemed severe or pervasive, a court or investigating agency will utilize a “reasonable person” standard, asking whether a reasonable person would consider the alleged conduct to be intimidating, hostile or abusive.A supervisor or coworker who routinely antagonizes most or all employees in the workplace, regardless of who they are, will likely not be found to be creating a hostile work environment. This is a hard pill for many employees to swallow, particularly those who find themselves stuck in such volatile workplaces.