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Rotten job or hostile environment?

Since the advent of the #metoo movement and other high-profile cases involving the mistreatment of employees, more employers are making an effort to create safe and comfortable work environments. Nevertheless, every workplace brings together the personalities and behaviors of diverse people, and you may feel your place of employment is among those that has not gotten the memo about how to treat employees.

Perhaps a certain co-worker is not easy to get along with. Maybe you even dread going to work because this person is rude, inconsiderate or hypercritical. You may have a boss who is demanding, never satisfied and unappreciative of your efforts. However, even if all these elements exist in your workplace, you may not have reason to complain about a hostile work environment.

What are the elements of a hostile environment?

Describing your workplace as hostile is a common misnomer. Simply because you have difficult co-workers, low pay or a terrible boss does not mean your workplace fits the legal definition of a hostile work environment. Legally, that term refers to a work environment where someone mistreats you because of your race, sex, religion, age or other protected status. In other words, you are a victim of discrimination, including sexual harassment. A hostile work environment also includes these factors:

  • The discriminatory actions or words make it impossible for you to complete your duties at work, either because the terms applied to you are unreasonable or oppressive, or because the hostile actions prevent you from advancing in your career.
  • The actions or behaviors go beyond one sexually explicit joke or comment and is a regular part of the work environment.
  • You feel as if the hostility surrounds you, for example, if your employer makes suggestive remarks when you walk past, follows you to the break room and sends you inappropriate emails throughout the day.
  • The behavior continues even when you ask the person to stop.
  • No one in administration or human resources investigates your complaints or takes steps to stop the behavior.

Asking the offender to stop is your first step in addressing a hostile work environment. Often, this is enough to alert the person that he or she has gone too far, and the behavior will end. You will also want to document the hostile behavior and your efforts to make it stop. However, if it continues, you may benefit from seeking the advice of a skilled Rhode Island attorney.

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