Start Definition of intimidating work environment

Definition of intimidating work environment

If you believe you may be working in a hostile work environment, once all the legal boxes have been checked, trust your instincts.

Before discussing the number one sign of a hostile work environment, it helps to discuss conduct that does not constitute a hostile work environment. In fact, a common defense for employers in employment discrimination cases, particularly those involving managers or supervisors, is that the alleged bad actor did not engage in discrimination, but was simply a “stickler” or a “loose cannon” known for giving everyone a hard time.

Cursing, casual joking, rudeness, petty slights, nitpicking, bossiness and unpleasant behavior, on its own, are not enough to bring a hostile work environment claim. An employer who routinely blows their lid, creates a threatening and intimidating work environment, and generally treats their employees poorly will be protected under the law if their conduct is deemed unrelated to a protected class.

Bad actors may threaten discrimination victims, warning them not to report their conduct. The conduct they’ve endured may be so rampant throughout the workplace, they may worry just how far the harassment will extend and will feel they have nowhere to turn.

They may threaten an employee’s bonuses, income or job security. In some circumstances, particularly where the workplace is a municipality, government or law enforcement agency, an employee may truly feel they have no options since they’ve seen the dark side of unbridled authority and know firsthand that the checks and balances intended to stop unlawful behavior sometimes fail.

The fear to speak up and assert your rights is common, but so too is the threat of reprisal when an employee does come forward.

Though there are laws in place to protect against retaliation for exercising the rights granted by anti-discrimination laws, instances of retaliation are still common, and even where it is not, the fear of retaliation is strong.

Additionally, one-off occurrences of offensive behavior will generally not rise to the level of a hostile work environment.

The “stray remarks doctrine,” first set forth by the U. Supreme Court, and expounded upon by courts since then, has routinely been relied on to dismiss employment discrimination claims.

Exactly what constitutes a stray remark warrants its own discussion, but the typical analysis reviews who made the remark — a decision maker or not; the nexus between the remark and the employment decision at issue; the ambiguity of the remark or whether it could reasonably be deemed discriminatory; and the temporal proximity between the remark and the adverse employment decision.

So, what’s the number one sign of a hostile work environment?

While the signs of a hostile work environment vary, the number one sign of a hostile work environment, universal in all cases, is intimidation.