What is a hostile work environment?

What is a hostile work environment?

You’ve probably heard of the “hostile work environment” but what does it mean? You may not be an attorney and therefore you might not understand what constitutes a hostile work environment. This is because many people don’t understand what it means, and why it matters for them as employees. Employers can be held responsible for harassment claims and employee lawsuits. These serious issues can lead to decreased productivity, high turnover rates, and unhappy employees. Let’s look at what causes hostile environments and what we can do about them.

Let’s start by examining some areas that don’t make up a hostile workplace. Many people believe that a hostile work environment is one with a rude coworker, mean supervisor or just one incident. These areas are not considered hostile. U.S. The Equal Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines a hostile work environment to be:

Participating in “unwelcome behavior that is based upon race, color or religion sex (including pregnant), age (40 and older), disability, or genetic information”

It happens when the “enduring of offensive conduct becomes a condition for continued employment” or the conduct creates an environment in the workplace that “a reasonable person would consider intimidating or hostile, or abusive.”

After you’ve read the definitions of hostile work environments by the EEOC, let us now look at what it actually means for employees.

These are just a few examples of offensive behavior at work:


  1. Offensive jokes, including racial and sexual ones
  2. Name calling, including racial epithets and slurs, can be used to refer to people.
  3. Physical threats and assaults based upon race, color, sex or other factors can be made
  4. Incitation based on race, color, or sex
  5. Humorous or mocking of anyone in the workplace due to race, sex and color, etc.
  6. Insults and downs based upon color, race, or sex are common.
  7. Images and objects that are offensive based on race, color, or sex.


These items can all be considered hostile work environments. They could come from a supervisor, coworker, agent of the employer or even a vendor or customer. Although the conduct is not always offensive to the person or employee it is directed at, it can be offensive for those around them.

You can make sure that your workplace is safe by taking an active role in trying to prevent hostile work environments. You can report any concerns, feelings of safety or offense to your supervisor through the appropriate channels.