Hostile work environments can cause trauma that affects every aspect of one’s life. For example, sexual harassment in the workplace makes one feel unsafe at work, which can jeopardize their sense of financial security and physical and mental wellbeing.
Under United States labor laws, a hostile work environment is defined as a workplace environment that—due to discriminatory, unwelcome, or offensive behavior—is difficult or uncomfortable to work in. If you find yourself in a hostile work environment, it’s your right to take action to protect yourself and remedy the situation.
Below, we’ve provided a list of examples of hostile work environments so you can familiarize yourself with what constitutes a legally actionable breach of your rights.
Examples of Hostile Work Environment
Discussions of sexual activity
Joe and Sally have neighboring cubicles in the office, and Joe regularly makes unwanted comments about his sexual history or sexual preferences to Sally, who has repeatedly said that she’s uninterested. Despite her insistence that he stop, Joe persists. This behavior violates the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) Policy Guidance on Current Issues of Sexual Harassment.
Unwelcome comments about one’s physical appearance
Joe and Sally regularly arrive at the office at the same time. Although Sally never comments on Joe’s appearance, Joe often tells Sally that she looks “sexy” or “hot” in her outfit. Joe continues to make these comments, despite Sally’s objections. This too violates the EEOC’s Policy Guidance on Current Issues of Sexual Harassment.
Jokes about one’s gender, sexual or racial identity, or disability
When Joe and Sally meet at the water cooler on their lunch break, Sally sometimes makes insensitive jokes about a racial group that Joe identifies as. Sally continues to make these jokes every now and then, despite Joe’s asking her to stop. This behavior violates Section 703(a)(1) of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. 2000e-2.
Rude or unpleasant gestures to coworkers
Joe is busy handling a project at work and asks Sally for help. However, Sally is busy preparing a client presentation scheduled for later that afternoon. To stay on top of her project preparation, she politely refuses Joe’s request for help. In response, Joe scowls and sticks his middle finger at her and calls her a derogatory term for a woman. These remarks and behaviors violate Section C(3) of the EEOC’s Policy Guidance on Current Issues of Sexual Harassment.
Sabotaging one’s projects
Joe is angry at Sally because she refused to assist on his project at work. In retaliation, Joe interrupts Sally’s client presentation and makes efforts to distract her. After he’s asked to leave, he deletes the copy of the presentation from her computer so she cannot send it to her clients afterward. Workplace sabotage is a form of bullying that is illegal and may have grounds for a civil lawsuit.
Using demeaning terms or names to refer to someone
As in the case above, Joe called Sally a degrading and demeaning term for a woman. Using hostile language such as this that is offensive to a protected category of people is grounds for creating a hostile work environment in violation of Title VII.
Sharing sexually suggestive or revealing pictures
If Joe shares a sexually suggestive photo of Sally without her consent, this is in violation of California’s “revenge porn” laws as defined by Penal Code 647j4 PC. To share lewd photos of someone without their consent constitutes the creation of a hostile work environment.
Unnecessarily touching someone
Sally and Joe are joking around at the office and Sally continues to grab hold of Joe whenever she laughs. Even though Joe has repeatedly told her to cut it out, she persists. This scenario may be in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
Uttering threats or behaving threateningly
Sally and Joe get into an argument during their lunch break at the office. In the heat of the moment, Sally screams at Joe and tells him that she’s going to “have someone kick his ass.” This constitutes uttering a threat and it is in violation of Title VII and therefore creates a hostile work environment.
Sharing unwanted notes
While at work, Sally passes Joe flirtatious notes despite Joe’s clear indication that he’s happily married and is uninterested in her advances. If Sally persists despite Joe’s warnings, then Sally would be in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
Making inappropriate contact outside of work settings
If Sally shows up at Joe’s daughter’s ballet recital to “show support” for his daughter, even though Joe did not invite her and has repeatedly rejected her advances, then this may constitute stalking and contravenes Title VII.
Violent touching or contact
Sally and Joe often get into playful arguments at work. Sometimes, the arguments turn physical and they playfully push each other in the shoulder. However, one day Sally kicks Joe in the groin with such force that it causes him to double over in pain. Sally has committed assault and harassment and, as such, is in violation of Title VII as well as the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.
Sending unwelcome emails or text messages
Joe and Sally often have friendly discussions at the office, but Joe insists on carrying them forward into their after-work life. Sally refuses Joe’s advances and cuts off communication after work. However, Joe persists by constantly sending her emails and SMS messages. Although these messages may have benign content, they are unwelcome and therefore can create a hostile work environment that contravenes Title VII.
Have a Sexual Harassment or Hostile Work Environment Claim in California?
There are many ways that a workplace can turn hostile. The examples of hostile work environments listed above represent some of the most common ways that a workplace can become unsafe, uncomfortable, or distressing in such a way that it constitutes legal action. If you require a California sexual harassment lawyer, contact our offices today for a free consultation so you can seek justice, heal, and move forward with your life.