man pointing finger towards another man

Hostile Work Environment Harassment: What is it and What are My Options?

What is a Hostile Work Environment?

A hostile work environment has everything to do with harassment and discrimination laws. Although many federal jobs can be difficult or physically demanding, that does not necessarily mean they fall under the legal definition of a hostile work environment.

The legal definition of discriminatory hostile work environment harassment is “unwanted conduct of a discriminatory nature based upon one’s race, color, sex, national origin, religion, age, disability, and/or prior EEO complaint or opposition activity that is severe and pervasive enough so as to alter a term or condition of employment and/or create a hostile work environment.”

Instead, we are talking about targeted harassment in the workplace in the form of discrimination. Isolated incidents usually do not constitute a hostile work environment. However, you may be suffering from a hostile work environment if you feel enduring discrimination is necessary to keep your job. Discrimination can be based on any of the following categories:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Sex
  • Religion
  • National Origin
  • Age
  • Disability

A harasser can be a supervisor, a coworker, someone working in a different department, or even a non-employee customer. As long as offensive conduct and harassment are severe and repeated enough that a reasonable person would consider it intimidating or abusive, there may be a case for a hostile work environment.

Offensive conduct can include:

  • Insults
  • Epithets
  • Offensive Pictures or Objects
  • Mockery
  • Physical Assault
  • Threats and Intimidation

The definition of a hostile work environment is very broad, meaning this list of offensive conduct is not limited. Other situations could lead to a hostile work environment. Online harassment by coworkers in the form of group chats made to ridicule another employee, or multiple unwanted online messages or threats could be considered a hostile work environment.

I am in a Hostile Workplace. What Should I Do?

If you are suffering in a hostile work environment, understand that laws like the Civil Rights Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Age Discrimination Act exist to protect your rights. No one should have to endure harassment anywhere, but especially somewhere you spend a lot of your time at and that you depend on for your livelihood.

If you are a federal employee, and you believe that your workplace has become hostile because you are being discriminated against, you have a right to file a complaint. The way to do that is to contact your employing agency’s EEO office within 45 calendar days of the harassment to file an informal EEO complaint. You should consult with a qualified lawyer who is trained in fighting against harassment in the workplace and can evaluate your case.

Call John P. Mahoney, Esq., Attorneys at Law at (202) 759-7780 if you think you may be in a hostile work environment.