What qualifies as a hostile work environment? Most employees think that a hostile environment can exist when they have a terrible boss, strict work regulations, restrictions at the workplace, denial of promotions, privileges, and benefits or being forced to work with a rude coworker.
Of course, all these may not create a conducive atmosphere to enable employees to work freely and be very productive; they may not constitute a hostile work environment since there is a legal criterion with set parameters to define what a hostile workplace is.
The legal requirements for a hostile work environment
There are a number of ways your boss may make the environment hostile to you as a worker. They range from simple things such as berating you about your age, gender or religion to serious issues such as sexual harassment at the office.
It doesn’t matter whether these are done with a joke, a smile or casually and harmlessly. But before you can accuse them and have any legal actions taken against them, the acts construed as the creation of a hostile environment must be tested against the legal requirements for a hostile workplace.
They include the following:
- The action of the boss or their behavior must be discriminatory against particular classifications such as race, disability, age or religion.
- The behavior or act must be lasting over time and pervasive.
- The behavior is centered on a particular employee, and the actions are seldom targeted on others on the same office.
- The hostile action, behavior or communication has to be severe in nature. It should not just be pervasive over time, but also it must seriously impact the employee’s ability to do their work as required.
- When it can be reasonably assumed that the boss willfully created the hostile environment and did nothing to change, even after being requested or informed about the acts, communication or behavior by the employee. Consequently, the boss will be solely responsible and liable for creating a hostile workplace.
What to do when your boss is creating a hostile workplace
It is not always easy when your boss creates a hostile workplace. Most employees usually are frustrated and tend to get intimidated by the thoughts of taking action against such bosses.
However, when there are reasonable grounds for the creation of hostile workplace by the boss, the affected employee has a number of options at their disposal.
They include the following:
Addressing the issue directly with the boss
This will be difficult for most employees, but necessary. It is important to communicate directly with the boss about your displeasure about their behavior, communication, acts or omissions which you think might be creating a hostile work environment.
For instance, if you are not comfortable with their choice of language, simply tell them that you find their language inappropriate and they don’t have your permission to continue addressing you like they have been addressing you.
Escalate to the management
If the boss is adamant and refuses to change after you inform them of your displeasure with the kind of environment they are creating, it will be advisable to take the issue to the management or the HR department, if you happen to have one.
While doing so, you must approach the management calmly and professionally and avoid being emotional, irrespective of how you may be feeling at that time. Arm yourself with the specific incidences and examples to support your claims or allegations against the boss.
Seek legal redress under hostile work environment laws
If the above approaches fail, then you can seek refuge under the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, (EEOC) and the relevant hostile work environment laws. The EEOC is the commission mandated with dealing with cases related to discrimination in the workplace, which also applies to persons feeling that they are working under hostile or uncomfortable environments. Learn how to file a charge against your boss with EEOC.
Once you make your application, the commission will carry out their investigations, which may sometimes involve summoning the pervasive boss and getting testimonies from colleagues. They will then make their determination and consider reasonable actions to cure the problem.