If you are facing discrimination, harassment or intimidating behavior at work, you know that it can be a drag just to step into your workplace everyday, let alone do your job with enthusiasm. While quitting your job is an option, it’s not always an option. So, what is a toxic or hostile work environment and how do you know if your workplace is toxic?
A hostile work environment is one where the work, atmosphere and people or any combination of those things make you so disgusted and disillusioned that it causes serious disruptions in the rest of your life. While there is no perfect job, employer or workplace, you know you are working in a hostile work environment when you not only fail to find joy in anything there, but when you feel like your spirit has been broken and when you realize that you are the constant target of ridicule, harassment or even abuse.
What Constitutes a Hostile Work Environment?
Here are some of the factors that legally constitute a hostile work environment:
- The actions or behavior must discriminate against people of a protected class such as age, religion, race, national origin, disability, gender, sexual orientation, etc.
- The behavior or communication cannot be rare or random, but should be pervasive, lasting over time and not limited to annoying remarks.
- The hostile behavior, actions or communication must be severe enough to disrupt or affect the employee’s work or career progress. For example, if you got put on a graveyard shift as a result of the discriminating or harassing behavior, then that constitutes a hostile work environment.
- In these cases, the employer takes no action to mitigate the hostile behavior or put an end to it. In such cases, the employer can be held liable for creating a hostile work environment.
How To Deal With a Hostile Work Environment
There are several ways in which you could deal with a toxic or hostile work environment.
Try to Find Another Job
If your job is causing you serious emotional or physical stress, you could try to quit and find another job as soon as possible. We often see people quit their jobs with nothing else lined up because they simply cannot bear the thought of going back to work another day. However, if quitting your job is not an option and you do decide to stay, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. But, until the root cause of your problem changes, remember that it’s not going to get much better. If you think the root cause might change soon such as a potential transfer then it might be worth hanging tough for a short period.
Enlist the Support of Co-Workers
If you don’t have the luxury of walking away from your job, it is important that you rally like-minded co-workers who can serve as a support network for you. This can of course be difficult if your co-workers are part of the problem. But, if you can rally a few and get them in your corner, that’s always a good idea. The best thing to do is to make sure you know who your friends are and keep your head down as much as possible.
If you are the target of harassment or discrimination, you should document absolutely everything. It is useful to keep a diary of events each day. In an office environment, this means saving and organizing emails and instant messages, making sure you take notes in meetings and on phone calls and never trusting someone to recall and agree when you remind them of a specific thing they said or did. It could be exhausting to do this everyday, but it is a solid way to make sure that you have evidence every step of the way and to know that your account of a certain incident or episode will be corroborated.
If you are finding it a challenge to get organized, embrace tools such as Evernote to keep all of your documents neatly organized. You should have folders and labels for everything you work on and everyone with whom you interact. This technique of documenting is particularly helpful if your Human Resources Department is the root of the problem of if the tension at work is because of poor relationships between teams.
Don’t Take it Personally
This is a tough thing to do because when you are discriminated or harassed because of your gender, the color of your skin, your national origin or religion – because of who you are – it is difficult to tolerate and not take it personally. While it may be personal, remember that it is not your fault. Don’t let yourself get bogged down by the negativity that envelops your workplace. Stay away from office gossip as much as you can. Pick your battles wisely. But, be assertive any time you are under attack. While you cannot control what other people say or do, you can control your own actions and reactions.
Notify the Appropriate Parties
It is important you take steps to notify both the offensive workers as well as the supervisor or manager. You need to let them know that their behavior is not acceptable and you would like it to stop right away. If your supervisor fails to take reasonable steps to change the situation, your employer could be held liable for allowing a hostile work environment to persist. It is also in your best interest to file a timely charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). This is a government agency, which has the authority to handle formal complaints filed under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. An EEOC charge must be filed no later than 180 days after the last harassing offense in a hostile work environment case.
Contact an Employment Lawyer
Last but not least, contact an experienced Orange County employment class action lawyer who can help serve as your advocate and help you obtain compensation for the losses and emotional distress you have suffered as a result of the hostile work environment. The assistance of a knowledgeable lawyer can be invaluable from the early stages. Call Haeggquist & Eck at (949) 724-9200 for more information about your legal rights and options.