Hostility in the Workplace


According to a poll conducted for Bellingham, Washington-based Workplace Bullying Institute found that 37 percent of U.S. workers, 54 million people, stated that they had been victims of workplace “hostility.” “Hostile workplace” and “hostile work environment” are phrases that are commonly used, but in actuality, few situations meet the legal definition required. Conduct and speech that is intimidating, abusive, or otherwise offensive, going beyond casual or isolated joking, is considered “hostile”. Misuse of the term “hostile work environment” increases tension in the workplace and strains the relationship between employer and employee and/or coworkers. There is currently no federal law explicitly outlawing workplace “bullying.” Instead, laws have been put in place to protect workers from harassment and discrimination. Laws such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Americans with Disabilities Act, Equal Pay Act, and so forth, prohibit discrimination and harassment, in most workplaces. Some workplaces are excluded because of size or the structure of the workforce. Anti-discrimination laws protect employees from being treated unfairly in hiring/firing/layoff situations or promotional or job assignment decisions, etc., based on their actual or perceived inclusion in a protected class. Employers cannot base workplace decisions on a person’s race, gender, age, ethnicity, marital status, religious affiliation, veteran status, disability, and in some cases political affiliation, parental status or sexual orientation. Also, employers may not retaliate against employees making harassment or discrimination claims. Determining harassment or discrimination can be difficult because employers rarely admit to treating someone unfairly based on the employees’ perceived or actual inclusion in one of the protected classes. Therefore, harassment and discrimination have to be proven by examining the circumstances occurring as a whole. To establish discrimination, a person must show:

  • He/she was an actual or perceived member of a protected class
  • He/she was performing satisfactory work
  • He/she was subjected to an adverse employment action that other non-protected coworkers doing essentially the same work were not subjected to or that he/she was replaced by a non-protected person

To reduce the misapplication of the allegation and risk for liability, employers should implement clear policies on harassment and discrimination and then follow and enforce procedures. A clear plan for reporting and investigating complaints should be put in place and employers should make a sincere effort to quickly resolve any legitimate complaints or issues that arise.

Seattle Employee Rights Lawyers

If you or someone you love has experienced workplace hostility in Seattle, Bellevue, or anywhere in the State of Washington, call Phillips Law Firm at 1-800-708-6000. Our Washington employee rights lawyers are waiting to assist you 24/7, offering a free case evaluation. Remember our no fee promise. If we do not recover anything for you, you do not owe us an attorney fee.