A hostile work environment is one that makes you feel intimidated, scared, or uncomfortable due to another’s conduct. If you are unsure if your workplace can be classified as ‘hostile,’ answer these questions:
- Are any of your employees experiencing conduct from another or others that are ‘unwelcome?’
- How often are they experiencing this conduct, and what is the severity of the occurrences?
- Are they truly intimidated and scared, or just unhappy with their workplace?
Answers to these questions can help you determine if your workplace is a hostile work environment for one or more of your employees. The answers may indicate you should be making improvements to create a more productive and happier work environment.
Still, it may not necessarily mean you have to worry about legal complaints. If there is any indication of a hostile work environment existing in your business, your actions on the matter are imperative.
What Constitutes a Hostile Work Environment?
A hostile work environment involves an employee being subjected to harassment due to religion, sex, pregnancy, race, color, age, national origin, genetic information, or sexual orientation.
The situation becomes illegal if your employee can prove their workplace has become infused with discriminatory harassment. It is unlawful for this treatment to become so severe it has altered the conditions of your employee’s work environment.
The communications, actions, and behaviors have to be discriminatory and monitored by the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The employee must prove they were discriminated against, and the actions have to have been severe enough to be considered abusive.
How to Resolve or Fix a Hostile Work Environment
If you’ve discovered there is a hostile work environment within your company, there is no clear answer on how to deal with it. Each company handles the situations differently depending on the conduct being delivered. If the problem results from just one employee, it is easier as you deal directly with that person. Giving a reprimand or termination can easily be dealt out with only one employee.
Should the hostile work environment result from your CEO’s actions or another executive you don’t have authority over, it becomes more difficult. It can also be problematic if the person harassing another is one of your top employees, and you cannot see leaving them a benefit to your business.
In these scenarios, what needs to be done is to talk to the individual, explain the situation and how it is affecting the harassed employee, and explain why (legally) they have to cease the harassment. If they display an unwillingness to change their behaviors, go to whoever is over them in command.
If the person is the CEO, you can discuss data on productivity and performance and the nature of the complaint you’ve received. You can also talk with them about associated costs with a harassment claim and turnover rates. You may want to talk with an employment lawyer and determine the liability risk the company is at with a discrimination suit. Discussing the severity of this type of litigation may be enough for the CEO to change their behaviors.
Company Culture Causing Hostile Work Environment
Some of the most challenging hostile work environment cases involve a company’s culture contributing to the hostility. A ‘bro culture’ can make it uncomfortable or hostile for women or LGBTQ people to work within.
- Bro Culture– Bro culture is a subculture of men who spend their quality time with others just like themselves. The bro culture is often associated with fraternities or sports. The culture’s aspects vary depending on the region; for example, it often overlaps with the surfing culture in California.
The Uber company has one of the most well-known hostile work environment cases as a result of sexual harassment in their offices and not protecting their passengers. Another high-profile allegation was against the FBI for racial and gender discrimination with their recruits. If your company is looking at a hostile work environment because of cultural problems, it will be much more challenging to fix.
Start a change in your company’s behaviors by drafting a company policy depending on the discrimination and harassment you are dealing with. This policy must clearly define the disciplinary actions in place should anyone engage in discriminatory behaviors. The policy should also outline acceptable and non-acceptable behaviors.
Make sure all levels of management are aware of the hostile work behaviors occurring. Make sure the situation is being taken seriously and addressed by all executives or groups within your company. Work together with them to develop a plan and make sure honest discussions take place with all teams.
Behaviors should stop immediately to prevent any further harassment or acts of violence. One factor to remember through the struggle of making changes this significant in a business’s policies and behaviors is that; you are obligated to pull through these changes.