You may think that determining a hostile work environment would be relatively easy. The truth is, however, that to take legal action, behaviors at work must meet the legal definition of hostile. While many elements may contribute to a work environment that is less than desirable, it does not necessarily mean that it is hostile.

Fortunately, laws exist that prohibit discrimination or other antagonistic behaviors in the workplace. If you are a victim of a hostile work environment, you have options to obtain a legal remedy.

Characteristics of a hostile work environment

According to The Balance Careers website, a hostile work environment exists when you experience abusive behavior because of your gender, race, ancestry, sexual orientation, religion, age, pregnancy or disability. So while some coworkers’ behaviors may be obnoxious or condescending, it does not necessarily mean it is legally hostile unless you can prove that it is due to the abovementioned factors.

Additionally, the behavior must be persistent and pervasive. A few off-hand comments will not qualify as a hostile work environment.

What to do about a hostile work environment

You may feel offended and confused about how to handle a hostile work environment. The first thing to consider is talking to the offending employee and ask that they stop their behavior. If you are not comfortable with the thought of this, you can also go straight to your boss or your human resources department. Most employers want to know immediately about things like this so that they can put a stop to it. If it is your employer that is the problem, you should notify your HR department immediately.