When cases of workplace harassment make the news, most of the attention is focused on the most prominent victims. People who were explicitly assaulted are put in the spotlight because the harms they face are so obvious. However, this leaves out the majority of the people who suffer from abusive jobs.
While a few people probably suffer the most obviously, everyone is affected by a hostile work environment. Keep reading to learn how harassment can lead to a hostile work environment and how this can make a job unsafe for everyone.
Types of Workplace Harassment
Many people associate workplace harassment with sexual harassment in particular. While sexual abuse is certainly one way people can make a workplace dangerous, it’s nowhere near the only kind of harassment.
Basically, workplace harassment is any kind of behavior that violates the rules made by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). It’s defined as “unwelcome verbal or physical behavior that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), gender/gender identity, nationality, age (40 or older), physical or mental disability, or genetic information.”
In practice, that can be broken down into many categories. Below are some standard divisions, along with examples of how they may occur.
- Racial discrimination: Making regular, unwelcome comments about someone’s race, such as claiming they’re better or worse at particular work because of their race.
- Religious harassment: Unwelcome conduct based on someone’s religion, such as constantly asking invasive questions, making jokes, or trying to convert someone.
- Gendered abuse: Unwelcome behavior because of someone’s gender, such as sexual harassment or jokes about gender.
- Age-based discrimination: Jokes, insults, or comments about someone’s age if they’re over 40. It can also include failing to promote or assign specific responsibilities because of their age.
- Ableism: Harassing someone or failing to provide reasonable accommodations based on a disability.
Harassment doesn’t have to be explicitly physical, as you might have noticed in the examples. It can be entirely verbal. It just has to be either severe enough or pervasive enough that a reasonable person would consider the workplace “hostile.”
How Workplace Harassment Causes a Hostile Work Environment
Workplace harassment is rarely a one-off event. In many cases, it’s the result of a toxic culture that affects everyone in the office. In fact, it can create a hostile workplace for far more people than just the direct victims.
For example, consider a workplace where gendered harassment takes place. The supervisor believes that women with blonde hair are less capable of intellectual tasks than women with brown hair. This will impact every woman in the office, not just the blondes.
The blonde women will receive fewer promotions and opportunities than the brunettes. They may also have to sit through jokes about their perceived capabilities from other people in the office. However, brunette women will also face problems. They may be expected to do more work than blonde women or to accept comments about how “it’s a good thing you’re not blonde!” Every woman in the office is facing a hostile work environment.
This can also apply to less visible differences. If it’s known that the manager hates atheists and Mormons and looks for excuses to fire them, people in the office will all suffer from a hostile environment. Atheist employees will feel unsafe about revealing their religious beliefs. People of other religions may be concerned about how the manager will react if they mention their faith. As a result, no one feels safe in the workplace because of their religion.
Anyone suffering from a hostile work environment may potentially have grounds for a lawsuit. Whether you’ve been overlooked for promotions or forced to put up with offensive comments to keep your job, you deserve better. But what can you do?
What to Do If You’re In a Hostile Work Environment
If you’re in a hostile work environment, you can feel stuck. It may feel like if you try to change the status quo, things will get even worse when you employer retaliates against you. In companies with toxic cultures, that’s not an unfounded belief. Still, you deserve to work somewhere where you feel safe and secure.
- Speak up. You may be able to change the culture from within. In some cases, you may be able to halt abusive and hostile environments just by asking the harassing individuals why they think their behavior is okay. You can also make HR reports if the hostile environment doesn’t permeate the entire company. By speaking up, you may also encourage other employees to stand up to the abuse.
- Document instances of harassment. Even if you don’t feel comfortable reaching out to HR or you have reason to believe that an HR report will get you fired, you should create a paper trail. Email descriptions of instances of abuse to your personal email address. Save communications that include harassment. You can even record conversations in public areas.
- Get a lawyer. The last and most crucial step is to get in touch with an experienced attorney. A lawyer specializing in hostile work environments is an invaluable resource for fighting back against an unsafe workplace. They can help whether you’re considering mediation or want to pursue a case in court. Having a lawyer on your side also shows that you’re taking your complaints seriously, putting pressure on your employer.
Don’t Put Up with a Hostile Workplace
You don’t need to put up with a hostile work environment just because other people have it worse. In fact, that’s an excellent reason for you to take action against it. An abusive workplace often requires legal intervention to improve, and the most abused workers may not feel comfortable taking action.
You can be the change you want to see in your office. Learn more about how you can take legal action against your employer by scheduling your consultation with an experienced workers’ rights attorney today. Take a stand and make your employer either justify or improve the office culture. You’ll not only make your own life better, but you’ll also help your coworkers, too.