Is It Really a Hostile
have done a good job of communicating your policy against
harassment and discrimination to all of your employees. Everyone
knows that your company will not tolerate harassment or discrimination
of any kind. So why are so many employees still confused about
what the term “hostile work environment” means?
Human resources professionals will tell you that they are
receiving more and more complaints of hostile work environment
that have nothing to do with discrimination, but everything
to do with the way the employees are being treated by their
supervisor or co-workers.
EEOC describes a hostile work environment as “unwelcomed
sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal
or physical conduct of a sexual nature when such conduct has
the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering
with an individual’s work performance
or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive
working environment.”. This definition applies to harassment
based on sex (with or without sexual conduct), race, color,
religion, national origin, age, disability, and protected
activity (i.e., opposition to prohibited discrimination or
participation in the statutory complaint process). This prohibition
should cover harassment by anyone in the workplace –
supervisors, co- workers, or non-employees.
employees are legitimately confused by the definition of a
hostile work environment. For example, the manager who belittles,
embarrasses and demeans employees is acting in an “intimidating,
hostile and offensive” manner. But such
behavior may not rise to the EEOC definition of a hostile
work environment because the tirades are targeted at all employees
and not one particular protected class.
the definition of a hostile work environment does not apply
to professional disagreements or personality conflicts. While,
many people feel that these differences of opinion “unreasonably
interfere with their work performance”,
these types of conflicts are not covered under federal discrimination
the last 10 years, business climates have changed dramatically.
The era of the type “A” personality boss is going
the way of the dinosaur. So, when the boss manages through
bullying or humiliation, or co-workers trade insults via e-mail,
some naturally think this behavior is illegal harassment.
This type of conduct may not be illegal, however it may be
a violation of company policy.
harassment and discrimination policies include a statement
that all employees will be treated with respect and dignity.
If this is the case, ensure it is followed by all employees
– especially managers. Conflicts in the workplace are
inevitable and, depending on how they are handled, can be
beneficial. Encourage employees to handle their differences
in a constructive manner.
more thing. Whenever reviewing your harassment and discrimination
policies with employees, be sure to explain the difference
between illegal harassment and the type of behavior that is
a violation of your policy and how you expect individuals
to handle both types of situations. This might reduce the
number of complaints and greatly enhance the potential of