Navigating a Hostile Workplace: How to Document and Protect Yourself

A hostile work environment is a situation where an employee is subject to continuous harassment, discrimination, bullying, or retaliation that makes it difficult to perform their duties. Hostile behavior in the workplace can come from coworkers, supervisors, or even clients.

Federal employees subject to a hostile work environment (and those who report hostile work behaviors) may suffer from a range of issues, including:

  • Anxiety and depression
  • PTSD
  • Discrimination
  • Harassment
  • Retaliation

Navigating a hostile workplace can be a challenging and emotionally draining experience, but there are steps that employees can take to protect themselves. One of the most important steps is to document every instance of hostile behavior.

In this blog post, we will discuss further the importance of documentation, what types of behavior to document, and how to organize and use that documentation in a legal case.

What to Document:

To build a strong case for a hostile work environment claim, it is essential to have detailed documentation of every instance of hostile behavior. These behaviors can include harassment, discrimination, bullying, or retaliation.

Documentation can help you demonstrate that the hostile behavior was:

  • Pervasive
  • Severe
  • Happened repeatedly over time
  • Affected your mental health
  • Affected your ability to perform your job to the best of your capabilities

When documenting, consider collecting any pertinent emails, memos, audio recordings, and/or video footage that you believe illustrates the hostile behavior or which corroborates your experience of the situation. It is best to take notes and document conversations in real-time when you can, identifying as much detail as possible about the incident, including the date, time, location, and any witnesses.

How to Organize Documentation:

Organizing documentation is critical when building a case for a hostile work environment. One of the best practices is to organize documentation chronologically, labeling each incident with a brief description. Categorizing the documentation by perpetrator, location, or type of behavior can also be helpful.

Additionally, it is crucial to store and secure documentation by keeping both physical and digital copies in a safe location that can be accessed when needed. Relatedly, storing multiple copies of your documentation in different places can help you avoid lost or stolen evidence.

If your case requires a lawsuit or other legal remedy, consult with your attorney to determine the best way to preserve and organize your documentation. Having well-organized documentation can save you time and money, especially when filing a complaint or pursuing legal action.

Using Documentation as Evidence in a Legal Case:

When pursuing legal action, documenting instances of hostile behavior is crucial. Documentation forms the foundation of any legal claim and can help employees prove their case. When serving as evidence, clear documentation provides employees with an excellent tool with which to negotiate or defend their rights. Furthermore, when documentation is organized, labeled, and detailed, the employee's case becomes more compelling.

It is crucial to consult with a legal expert who can analyze the documentation and support the claim with legal analysis.

What to Do When You Experience Hostile Behavior in the Workplace:

If you experience hostile behavior at work, it is essential to first document it, as mentioned above. Consider keeping a journal or diary that documents every instance of hostile behavior you experience. Additionally, it may be useful to seek support from a trusted friend or relative outside of your organization, agency, or workplace.

Navigating a hostile work environment can be a daunting task. Therefore it is best that you create a support system around you. It may be necessary to consider filing a complaint with HR. Still, before proceeding with this option, it is highly recommended that you speak with an experienced employment law attorney with extensive experience handling hostile work environment cases in the context of the federal workplace.

At The Law Firm of John P. Mahoney, Esq., Attorneys at Law, PLLC, we believe in fighting for the rights of federal employees. We know first-hand how damaging a hostile workplace can be, and we have helped countless federal employees deal with instances of harassment and discrimination, not to mention the mental and emotional fallout caused by a hostile work environment. If this is something you are dealing with, reach out to our law firm today. We are here for you.