What Constitutes a "Hostile Work Environment"? - Law and Daily Life
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What Constitutes a "Hostile Work Environment"?

According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), a hostile work environment is when harassment--including unwelcome comments or conduct based on sex, race, or other legally protected characteristics--unreasonably interferes with an employee's work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.

What actions could cause a hostile work environment?

The FCC cites the following as examples of actions that may create sexual hostile environment harassment include:

  • Leering, i.e., staring in a sexually suggestive manner

  • Making offensive remarks about looks, clothing, body parts

  • Touching in a way that may make an employee feel uncomfortable, such as patting, pinching or intentional brushing against another's body

  • Telling sexual or lewd jokes, hanging sexual posters, making sexual gestures, etc.

  • Sending, forwarding or soliciting sexually suggestive letters, notes, emails, or images

According to the FCC, other actions which may result in hostile environment harassment, but are non-sexual in nature, include:

  • Use of racially derogatory words, phrases, epithets

  • Demonstrations of a racial or ethnic nature such as a use of gestures, pictures or drawings which would offend a particular racial or ethnic group

  • Comments about an individual's skin color or other racial/ethnic characteristics

  • Making disparaging remarks about an individual's gender that are not sexual in nature

  • Negative comments about an employee's religious beliefs (or lack of religious beliefs)

  • Expressing negative stereotypes regarding an employee's birthplace or ancestry

  • Negative comments regarding an employee's age when referring to employees 40 and over

  • Derogatory or intimidating references to an employee's mental or physical impairment

 

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