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Spotting a hostile work environment

The Golden State, known for its sun-kissed beaches and tech-driven cities, is home to approximately 4.25 million businesses and industries, as reported by the California Labor Market Information. While many enjoy positive work experiences, some encounter challenging situations, notably hostile work environments.

Recognizing the signs of a hostile work environment is important, as it affects employees’ well-being and overall productivity.

Understand the criteria

In California, for a workplace to qualify as hostile, the behavior must discriminate against a protected class like race, gender, age or disability. It is more than just having a bad day or getting into an occasional disagreement with a coworker.

It is a sustained, pervasive pattern of behavior that interferes with an individual’s ability to perform their job. This means that general rudeness or unprofessional behavior does not necessarily equate to a hostile environment unless it targets someone because of their protected status.

Recognize repetitive behavior

One-off incidents, unless extremely severe, usually do not create a hostile work environment. Instead, it is the repeated and severe behaviors, like derogatory comments, offensive jokes or unwelcome physical contact, that can indicate hostility.

Gauge the impact on your work

Evaluate whether the behavior hinders your ability to do your job. A hostile work environment can diminish your performance, increase sick days and even make you dread coming to work.

Observe the management’s response

If employees report inappropriate behavior and management ignores or does not address it adequately, it can be a sign of a hostile environment. Employers have a duty to address and rectify reported behaviors that can contribute to hostility.

Seek feedback from coworkers

Speak with your colleagues. They can offer insight into whether they also perceive the environment as hostile or if they have experienced similar issues.

Know your resources

California offers several resources for workers, like the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, which provides information on employee rights and how to handle workplace issues.

Identifying a hostile work environment is the first step toward seeking resolution and ensuring a safe and positive workplace for everyone. By staying informed and recognizing the signs, you can take action to protect yourself and your coworkers from the negative impacts of workplace hostility.