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3 Signs You Work in a Hostile Environment

A hostile work environment is when someone is the victim of pervasive or long-lasting discriminatory harassment. This kind of harassment can occur in various forms, but it’s usually a result of discrimination against protected categories such as race, gender, class, disability, sexuality, or religion. Often when we think of hostile work environments, we think of sexual harassment, because a large percentage of the hostile work environment cases are sexual in nature. However, this is not the only kind of work environment harassment. Learn about the signs of various forms of harassment to protect yourself and your coworkers.

  1. Inappropriate Jokes About Groups of People

    While most of the time joking in the workplace is encouraged and acceptable, jokes about groups of people can be harmful and uncomfortable for everyone involved. When the joke is made toward you, it’s much easier to notice. If you’re a minority, a woman, or a person with a disability, you may have been the butt of these jokes before and can now spot them easily. These jokes are offensive and can make the victim of the joke feel uncomfortable and unwelcome. This makes it harder for the person to do their job and work with the other people on the job.

    These jokes are harder to spot when you’re not the one being affected by them. But, as a coworker, it is your responsibility to stop these jokes from happening continuously. You have the choice in what you condone and at what you laugh. If you notice joking that is targeted at groups of people, choose not to laugh and to discourage others from making them at your coworkers’ expense.
  2. Intentional Unwanted Touching, Contact, or Lewd Gestures

    Sexual harassment is never acceptable, and anyone can be the victim of this type of harassment regardless of gender or sexual orientation. If you notice one-sided flirtation between coworkers, or if you notice someone is making inappropriate comments toward you, this could be sexual harassment in the workplace. If you think you or a coworker is being sexually harassed, file a claim with your human resources professional. You never know how far it is going or how uncomfortable one person is feeling.
  3. Subtle Changes

    It’s your employer’s responsibility to make sure all employees are educated and know how to avoid hostile workplace harassment. Because many people are educated on harassment, some people will simply be very subtle with their harassment in order to avoid lawsuits or punishment. If you or a coworker has had a sudden, unwanted schedule change or if all of the sudden someone’s work tasks are bumped up higher than the worker can handle, it may be a subtle form of discrimination. Changes in the workplace are by no means always harassment, but sometimes they are. Look for these subtle changes and make sure to confront them if you think they are discriminatory.
Last Updated: April 15, 2015