Some employees think that unpleasant workplaces, rudeness, or lack of privileges, benefits, and recognition are forms of hostility in the workplace. This can be true, but it is also important to note that hostility needs to meet some legal criteria. So what is a hostile work environment?
Any behavior can constitute hostility, but legally speaking, hostile work environment is any action caused by unwelcome behavior, conduct, or communication in the workplace in the form of discrimination and harassment towards one or more employees. It can lead to uneasiness in one’s job and doing the work expectations impossible.
This definition filters out little annoyances from true incidents of hostility. Co-workers who speak loudly, or people who snap and crack their knuckles and gums may be demonstrating inappropriate and rude behavior, but is not qualified to be a hostile environment. On the contrary, employees who pass around sexually explicit jokes and images, with the intent to imply sexual advances or intimidation, are guilty of harassment, which is a valid case of creating a hostile workplace.
There are also other factors that define what a hostile work environment is. This is to distinguish further casual joking from hostility. In a hostile workplace, the conduct must be intentional, recurring, severe, pervasive, and interferes with the work environment and employee performance. An investigating body will be assigned to assess and review the situation to know if a conduct falls under these factors of hostility. The investigating body can be external from the workplace, but can also be a team of human resource and legal experts provided by the company. Usually, a legal complaint against discrimination and hostility becomes stronger if the victim already went through the company policies on discrimination to no avail.
The issues and after effects of claims on hostility are complex and should not be ignored. Relevant laws recognize this importance and provide protection to both victims and witnesses. Depending on the degree of hostility, the court will order several grants in favor of the victim once proven. There are several cases of hostility and harassment in the past where the court has ordered companies to pay thousands and even millions of dollars to the victim.
Hostility in work environment begins with improper and discriminatory behavior. Companies often have their internal policies and resolution procedures of hostility and conflicts. Providing a hostile and discriminatory environment to employees who practice a different religion and who belong to another race, color, or gender is illegal. Under the law, companies are required to provide their employees with an environment that is free from discrimination.
Discrimination and sexual harassment often constitute a hostile work environment. However, there are other areas where hostility can arise. An example of this is in retaliation. Retaliation is a behavior that discourage other employees from filing a complaint against someone or against the company. When an employee filed a complaint, retaliation and hostility can arise when the company willfully imposes behavior to pressure or to discourage future complaints from other employees.
Similarly, hostility can happen from constructive discharge and other contract-related matters. These include behaviors that force an employee to quit. Hostility arises from discharge issues because of several reasons, including the refusal of the company to provide rightful benefits to employees. More often than not, these different areas of hostility overlap and are closely related to each other.
Here are some factors believed to cause hostility in the workplace.
Hostility can arise if the management fails to guide the subordinates and create an environment of respect. Company policies and procedures should also be carried out to foster a positive workplace. Continuous failure of managers to mediate on conflicts often result to legal implications against the company.
Poor training and undefined expectations
Employees with poor training on proper workplace behavior and etiquette can be a disaster. Poor understanding of an improper behavior leads to bad attitudes being unchecked and left uncorrected. Similarly, employees with poor understanding of the different job responsibilities due to undefined expectations can result in hostility. For example, an employee who does not fully understand the responsibilities of his co-employees might get mad, blame, and induce hostility when the co-employee did not act on something that is out of his responsibilities. Positions in an organization must be properly trained, and expectations are defined, because undefined parameters might result in conflicts and hostility.
Absence of policies and conflict resolution
Without policies, employees will not have an objective basis and basic guidelines on what constitute proper and improper behavior. These policies not only define the protective measures to employees against hostility but also provide corrective and preventive measures to avoid similar incidents from happening again.