Hostile Work Environment/Sexual Harassment

A hostile work environment is one type of discrimination claim. People commonly misunderstand this to refer to any workplace environment in which an employee receives hostility from supervisors or co-workers. That is not the case. For better or worse, the law does not prohibit an employer from treating an employee badly or with hostility.

In legal terms, a hostile work environment refers to discriminatory words or conduct in the workplace that causes intimidation, ridicule, and insult and that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim's employment. "Discriminatory" means directed at the employee's membership in a protected class. Some examples include: co-workers making misogynistic comments around female employees on a regular basis and the company, despite knowing this occurs, not attempting to stop the behavior; a supervisor frequently mocking and ridiculing an employee's religious beliefs; an office where a gay or transgender employee is referred to in derogatory terminology based on his or her affect or appearance.

If you believe that your employer has created or permitted a hostile work environment, you need to consider the reason for the hostility. In the event that the hostility stems from your race, gender, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, or disability, then you should consult with a lawyer.