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What Is a Hostile Work Environment?

A hostile work environment is caused by unwelcome conduct in the workplace, in the form of discriminatory harassment toward one or more employees. The harasser may be a co-worker bully, a bad boss or a non-employee. Different legal analysis applies to each. However, if the person is causing an intimidating, hostile and offensive work environment, it is unlawful.

There are no federal “hostile work environment laws” or “hostile workplace laws” named as such. Creating a hostile workplace is prohibited under certain federal discrimination laws (listed below).
Subsequently, to be illegal under one of the laws in the eyes of the courts, a hostile work environment typically must be caused by discriminatory workplace harassment based on race, color, religion, national origin, disability, age or sex. Additionally, the harassment typically must be severe, recurring and pervasive.

Lastly, the victim or witnesses typically must reasonably believe that tolerating the hostile work environment is a condition of continued employment. In other words, the victim or witnesses typically must reasonably believe that they have no choice, but to endure a hostile workplace in order to keep their jobs.

Listed below are the specific federal discrimination laws, under which it’s prohibited to create a hostile work environment through discriminatory harassment.

Either the victim or witnesses may report a hostile work environment, by filing an appropriate discrimination charge directly with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or a state equivalent, or with either though an employment attorney.


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