Toxic coworkers’ grousing may not rise to the level of harassment. Learn what makes workplace hostility illegal and how a hostile work environment affects your well-being.
Everyone who has been employed for a while has come across a truly insufferable coworker. Perhaps they complain constantly, take credit for your ideas, or practice poor workplace hygiene. Toxic work environments negatively affect both physical and mental health. But “hostile work environment” has a specific meaning under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
A hostile work environment exists if there is severe and pervasive harassment based on race, sex (including sexual orientation or gender identity), national origin, religion, disability, or age. To be severe and pervasive, the harassment must make it difficult or impossible for the victim to do their job. If the behavior is viewed both objectively (by an impartial third-party observer) and subjectively (by the victim), the work environment is considered abusive. A hostile work environment affects your well-being physically, mentally, and professionally.
Coming to work only to encounter coworkers or supervisors who bully and demean you or make you feel unsafe is extremely stressful. Stress, as many of us know, is bad for you. It can raise your blood pressure, affect your sleep, disturb your digestion, and contribute to insulin resistance.
A hostile work environment contributes to anxiety, depression, and in severe cases, can cause symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Symptoms of PTSD can include nightmares, unpredictable mood swings, insomnia, and angry outbursts.
A person under constant stress because of a hostile work environment will probably not be able to perform their job to the best of their ability, so their productivity will suffer. The employer only compounds this problem by imposing “performance improvement plans” or other adverse consequences on the victim.
If you or you or your coworkers have suffered persistent bullying, harassment, or humiliation based on a protected category like race or sex, contact a hostile work environment lawyer. An experienced workplace discrimination attorney can assess your case and help you put a stop to the abusive behavior.