6 Signs You're in a Hostile Work Environment

6 Signs You're in a Hostile Work Environment

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It's a toxic work environment

A toxic work environment doesn’t mean you’re necessarily in a hostile work environment. But a hostile work environment means you’re in a toxic workplace. Make sense? In other words, if your workplace is toxic—if you’re experiencing or witnessing bullying, gossip, exclusion, insults, miscommunication, or any of the other telltale signs 

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It's a toxic work environment

of a toxic work environment—your spidey senses should kick into gear. Toxic behavior can quickly slide into outwardly hostile behavior. If you’re seeing these signs, start to watch for hostility.

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The hostile workplace behavior happens consistently

The EEOC’s explanation of workplace harassment specifically notes that the harassment must be “consistent” and “pervasive” to be considered illegal. “Petty slights, annoyances, and isolated incidents (unless extremely serious) will not rise to the level of illegality,” their definition notes. This means that a one-off incident in

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The hostile workplace behavior happens consistently

which a supervisor makes a discriminatory remark toward an employee may not be considered workplace hostility, in a legal sense. (Though we’d still recommend reporting this to your supervisor or HR). Watch for this behavior to happen consistently over a period of time.

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The hostile behavior becomes aggressive

Bad workplace behavior doesn’t have to be physically aggressive to be a sign of workplace hostility (though if you’re seeing that, certainly report it).  Aggression can look like verbal attacks, spiteful comments, or cruelty toward someone in general. Aggression will likely look like standard bullying behavior at work. If you’re 

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The hostile behavior becomes aggressive

seeing that, you’re likely in a hostile workplace.

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The hostile behavior is discriminatory

Per the EEOC’s definition of harassment, bad behavior must violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, or the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. A telltale sign of a hostile work environment is if the behavior you’re experiencing or witnessing is discriminatory based on “race, color, religion, 

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The hostile behavior is discriminatory

sex (including sexual orientation, gender identity, or pregnancy), national origin, older age (beginning at age 40), or genetic information (including family history).” If you hear a manager speaking poorly about an older colleague, experience unfair treatment because of pregnancy, overhear racist or sexist remarks, or experience 

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The hostile behavior is discriminatory

gender discrimination, you may be in a hostile work environment. This would also look like sexual harassment of any sort, including lude comments or explicit material circulating.

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The behavior disrupts the ability to work or the ability to move forward in one's career

If the behavior is so bad that it’s interfering with work, it’s probably considered hostile behavior. For example, if you’re being bullied by a colleague or supervisor to the point that you’re unable to concentrate on your work, that’s likely harassment. Similarly, if you’re worried about being able to move up the ladder in your career because 

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The behavior disrupts the ability to work or the ability to move forward in one's career

of a supervisor who constantly berates you and causes emotional distress, that’s likely harassment.

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The victim of the harassing behavior feels stuck

Finally, a sign of a hostile workplace is feeling like you can’t get out. Your colleague or boss may make you feel as if you won’t be able to find another role, that your skills are obsolete, or use gaslighting techniques to make you question your own experiences or what you’ve been witness to. All of these are major red flags.

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