5 Warning Signs of a Hostile Work Environment: What to Look Out For and How to Prevent It

Jeffrey Fermin
April 6, 2022

No one wants to go to work and feel uncomfortable. Unfortunately, many people do not realize that they are in a hostile work environment until it is too late.

Before we start, just know that If you or someone at your workplace is feeling uncomfortable, the first thing you should do is, talk to your supervisor. Let them know what is going on and see if they can help you to feel more comfortable. If you are scared of facing any kind of retaliation from a supervisor or coworker, you can submit an anonymous report. Feel free to use our whistleblower tool today.

Hostile work environments can be very stressful and can lead to decreased productivity, but can be a burden to workers' mental health.

In this post, we will discuss the 5 warning signs of a hostile work environment. We will also provide tips on how to prevent it from happening in the first place.

What qualifies as a hostile work environment?

A hostile work environment is created when an employee experiences or witnesses hostile or offensive conduct at work. This type of behavior can include:

It is important for companies to be aware of these warning signs so that they can start identifying a hostile work environment and take action to prevent it from continuing. Let's dig a little bit deeper to discuss some of these things.

Warning Sign #1: Physical Violence

Physical violence is one of the most obvious warning signs of a hostile work environment. This can include any type of physical attacks, such as punching, slapping, or kicking. It can also include damaging property or throwing objects.

It goes without saying that a workplace that has had physical violence is considered to be at a much higher risk for other types of hostile behavior.

If you experience or witness any physical violence at work, it is important to report it to your supervisor immediately.

Warning Sign #2: Verbal Abuse and Threats

Verbal abuse and threats are other common signs of a hostile work environment. This includes yelling, name-calling, and making threats. These behaviors can be extremely intimidating and make employees feel unsafe at work.

These verbal assaults can lead to other types of hostile behavior, such as physical violence, or potentially damage an employee's mental health.

Warning Sign #3: Intimidation

Intimidation can be a very subtle sign of a bad environment. It can include making employees feel like they are being watched or monitored, spreading rumors, or threatening to fire or discipline employees.

Poor leadership and a lack of communication are often the root causes of intimidation in the workplace. According to a study by the Workplace Bullying Institute, 61% of bullies are bosses.

Warning Sign #4: Discrimination

Discrimination includes treating employees differently based on their race, religion, gender, etc. This type of behavior is illegal and if an employee does not take legal action; a company will have an employee who is being discriminated against that may feel isolated, marginalized, or humiliated. They may also feel like they have to quit their job.

It is important for companies to have policies in place that prohibit discrimination and create an environment where employees feel comfortable reporting it if it does occur.

Warning Sign #5: Sexual Harassment

Unfortunately, sexual harassment is the most common type of harassment in the workplace. It can include any unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and any type of sexual harassment. We have previously talked about the METOO bill and its influences on the workplace — expect more content on that in the near future.

Report Sexual Harassment with AllVoices

If you are experiencing or have witnessed sexual harassment report it to your supervisor or the authorities, immediately.

How to prevent your company from developing a hostile work environment?

There are several things that you can do to prevent a hostile work environment from happening in your workplace. Here are some tips:

Promote a culture of respect.

Teach your employees about acceptable and unacceptable behavior. Make sure that everyone understands that hostile behavior will not be tolerated.

Create a reporting system.

Employees should feel comfortable reporting any hostile or inappropriate behavior to their supervisor or human resources department.

Encourage open communication.

Make sure that employees feel comfortable discussing problems and concerns with one another. This can help to identify potential issues before they become a problem.

If you'd like to learn a bit more about creating a culture of open communication, check out our interview with Kristen Lisanti, the CCO of BCW, where she discusses transformational & effective leadership.

Take action when necessary.

If you become aware of hostile behavior, take immediate action to stop it. Do not ignore the issue.

A hostile work environment can have a negative impact on both employees and employers alike. It is important to be aware of the warning signs and take steps to prevent it from happening in your workplace.

What is the legal definition of a hostile work environment?

From a legal standpoint, for a workplace to be considered hostile, certain legal conditions need to exist. A hostile working environment occurs if the boss or colleague is so hostile he or she cannot do your duties.

These changes affect the conditions of the employees' comfortable workplace environment.

Moreover, behavior and/or communication is discriminatory. The discrimination is monitored by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EOC), established by the Civil Rights Act 1964. A hostile work environment claim may be a federally-reported claim for employment-related harassment.

Generally, four hostile work environment conditions must be met before a claim is successful. First, the employee must show that he or she is a member of a protected class. Second, the employee must show that he or she was subjected to unwelcome verbal or physical conduct. Third, the employee must show that the harassment was based on his or her membership in a protected class. Fourth, the employee must show that the harassment affected a term, condition, or privilege of employment.

If these conditions are met, the employee can file a hostile work environment claim with the EEOC.

Wait, is hostile work environment harassment illegal?

From a legal standpoint, yes – hostile work environment harassment is illegal. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is responsible for investigating claims of hostile work environment harassment and taking appropriate action.

If you believe you are being harassed in the workplace, it is important to contact the EEOC as soon as possible.

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