What Constitutes a Hostile Workplace Environment – and How to Deal with it

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There’s a lot of confusion around the term ‘hostile workplace environment.’ To be fair, the terms ‘hostile’ and ‘environment’ aren’t always easy to define, especially in the context of the workplace. It’s normal that some employees might have wrong or incomplete ideas and view these concepts differently. Nevertheless, it’s a serious issue, so clarification is in order.

A hostile working environment may include rude and inappropriate or obnoxious behaviour, but these things by themselves do not make a hostile workplace environment. Certain criteria have to be met. Here’s all about what constitutes a hostile working environment – and how to deal with it.

What a hostile environment isn’t

A hostile working environment is not one wherein rude jokes are told, nasty comments are made, or rumours are spread about one person or another. That’s just part of it, but not enough. A coworker who leans over your desk and talks loudly, rudely, obnoxiously, or annoyingly does not create a hostile environment, however unpleasant it may be. Such a person may be charged or complained against, but not in light of a hostile working environment – at least not right away.

What a hostile environment is

For there to be a hostile working environment, there need to be actions or communications which make doing one’s job impossible. It also has to be discriminatory in nature, and occur on multiple (and persistent) occasions. Only when a person or group of persons have been accused and asked to stop on several occasions can they be accused of creating a hostile environment.

Legal requirements

Here’s what you would legally have to prove:

  • That the behaviour is discriminatory in nature, based on age, sex, religion, or other grounds

  • That the behaviour is pervasive and persists over time

  • That the behaviour has not stopped, despite attempts by management to stop it

  • That it’s reasonable to assume the employer knew about this but has either not been willing or has been unable to stop it.

How to deal with it

The first step is to talk to the offensive person and ask him or her to stop it. If this is not met with a favourable reaction, HR should be brought in. It’s crucial that the management and HR are informed. If necessary, an investigation must take place and interviews conducted and recorded, then transcribed by reliable transcription services such as https://www.alphabetsecretarial.co.uk/.

The hostile workplace environment is not a place where uncomfortable situations arise now and again; it’s a workplace environment in which very uncomfortable situations occur with such regularity that going through the motions of being productive is nearly impossible, and which seriously undermines the respect for an individual or group of individuals on a consistent basis. It’s a grave condition and a very serious matter.

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