Hostile Work Environments

Definition

A hostile work environment exists when unwelcome sexual conduct unreasonably interferes with an individual's job performance or creates a hostile, intimidating, or offensive work environment.

Explanation

A hostile work environment can be created by managers, supervisors, coworkers, customers, or even clients.  Examples of a hostile work environment might include:

  • Requests for sexual favors
  • Offensive language
  • Offensive and / or vulgar graffiti
  • Sexual inquiries and vulgarities
  • Physical or demeaning conduct of a sexual nature
  • Sexually offensive, explicit or sexist signs, cartoons, calendars, literature or photographs displayed in open view

An employer has the responsibility to investigate allegations of a hostile work environment when:

  • There has been a complaint to a manager
  • A manager failed to establish a policy against sexual harassment
  • The harassment is well known among employees

Liability for employers in instances of a hostile work environment exists when:

  • The employer knew, or should have known, about the harassment
  • The employer failed to take appropriate corrective action

A hostile work environment can exist even if the harassment does not result in tangible or economic job consequences.  For example, the person being harassed did not lose pay or the opportunity for a promotion.

Related Terms

diversity, corporate culture, interpersonal skills, employee engagement, glass ceiling, sexual harassment