A hostile workplace or a hostile work environment is just an employment situation where an employee feels like they are consistently subjected to unwanted behavior. An example of this could be a female employee at a small business that has only male employees – other than her. Every day, she goes to work and is subjected to jokes or inappropriate comments about her appearance, her gender or stereotypical gender roles. Even if the other employees claim that they were joking, she has to work in a hostile environment where she feels marginalized.
Often, a hostile work environment is created by the use of microaggressions. These are not overt types of discrimination or harassment, but they are small events that build up over time. These events may also happen consistently so that the employee feels like they are being targeted.
What is a microaggression?
A microaggression is a comment that may not appear offensive immediately, but it is because of the wide-ranging implications and connections.
For example, perhaps a worker has parents who are immigrants, but they have lived in the United States their entire life. A coworker says that they are surprised by that person’s grasp of the English language. It may sound like a compliment – “Wow, you’re so good at speaking English!” – but the problem is the implication within that comment. The compliment implies that immigrants don’t have a good grasp of the English language or are uneducated. This microaggression may actually have been meant as an insult, even when phrased as a compliment.
Issues like this can be a bit harder to spot than overt discrimination and harassment. Employees who feel that they are being treated unfairly need to know what legal steps to take.