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What Is a Hostile Work Environment?


Many people who talk about working in a “hostile work environment” often misuse this term. Like many other words in employment law – such as discrimination and harassment – there’s a definition most people assume to be correct and a definition according to the law.

Let’s get it out of the way: Working in a hostile work environment isn’t just about having a boss who screams at the top of their lungs or seems willing to fire anyone at any given moment. It also isn’t about working somewhere that feels dangerous or “hostile.” While a true hostile work environment can include these factors, it is not necessarily defined by them without two major components.

Discrimination & Harassment

The two key factors that can lead to the creation of a hostile work environment are discrimination and harassment. Discrimination refers to treating an employee differently because of a protected characteristic, such as their age, sex, religion, race, disability status, and other shielded traits. Harassment often refers to discriminatory behavior that makes someone feel unsafe or unwelcome in the workplace.

When discrimination and harassment become so severe or pervasive that they begin to affect an employee’s performance or ability to work, this is known as a hostile work environment. If you’ve heard of a hostile work environment within the context of a sexual harassment case, it’s because sexual harassment is considered the same as sex discrimination.

Anyone Can File a Claim

A hostile work environment can adversely affect everyone who has to work in one, which means anyone can file a claim. You do not have to experience discrimination – being aware of it to the extent that it affects your ability to work can be enough. You also don’t have to share characteristics with the discriminated party or be a direct victim of sexual harassment.

In a way, this is the beauty of a hostile work environment claim: It empowers others to not only take legal action to protect themselves, but also to hold responsible parties accountable for the mistreatment of coworkers who may be unable to get help.

Contact Us for Legal Support

If you believe you’re working in a hostile work environment, seek legal counsel from K2 Employment Law Group. We’re here to fight for those who have experienced or witnesses discrimination and harassment at work. If you’ve been unable to be at your best at work because of how you or your coworkers are being treated, we may be able to help.

Learn more about our services by reaching out to K2 Employment Law Group online or by calling (800) 590-7674. When you do, request a free initial consultation to get started.