Has an employee (or several) complained about their treatment at work? Are they having problems with a co-worker or manager that is making it difficult for them to do their jobs? Has the word “toxic” been thrown around in reference to the workplace?
You may have a hostile work environment on your hands — and that’s illegal.
What’s required for a hostile work environment?
A “hostile work environment” doesn’t mean things like workers who are unhappy with the coffee selection in the break room or an employee who always speaks too loudly for a co-worker’s comfort. Legally, a hostile work environment means that there is some element of discrimination or harassment present that is targeting a specific employee or group of employees. The discrimination or harassment must also interfere with the person’s ability to perform their job duties, so it generally cannot be a minor or a one-time event.
Employers who are made aware of a hostile work environment must take action quickly. These behaviors can’t be left alone. It’s imperative that the victim of the hostile work environment doesn’t face negative employment actions as a result of your attempts to address the problem. Retaliation for filing a complaint about a hostile work environment is illegal, and things like reassigning the victimized employee (instead of the person causing the problem) to a different unit, shift or location can be interpreted as retaliation.
Employment laws and situations involving allegations of a hostile work environment can be rather complicated to handle effectively. Working with an experienced attorney can help you better understand the options you have and how to take action without making your position even more difficult.