A hostile work environment can make it difficult for you to successfully complete your job-related duties on a daily basis and cope with the rigors of your employment. Anyone at your workplace, including a customer, co-worker or your employer, can mistreat, harass or discriminate against you, creating a hostile work environment.

Not all workplace issues, however, are serious enough to bring legal action to your employer’s attention. You must prove that someone in your workplace treated you poorly because you belong to a protected category, that he or she performed unwelcome actions and that these actions were severe or persistent.

Protected category

In Colorado, according to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, employers cannot discriminate based on race, color, national origin, ancestry, creed, religion, sex, age, physical disability, mental disability, marriage to a co-worker or sexual orientation. The establishment of a hostile work environment must involve harassment or discrimination based on one of these protected classes.

Unwelcome actions

For you to take legal action for a harmful workplace environment, the conduct by another person at your office or job site must be unwelcome, meaning that you did not willingly invite it. These behaviors could be physical, visual or verbal.

Severe or pervasive

The incidents contributing to a hostile work environment must be pervasive or severe enough to affect your ability to perform your job duties. Although a single act can sometimes have this effect, you must typically prove a pattern of ongoing discrimination and harassment.

If someone in your work environment, for example, constantly berates, belittles or inappropriately jokes about you because of your protected classifications, he or she could be guilty of maintaining a hostile work environment. This can occur in the form of indecent gestures, crude language or aggressive physical contact. It can also happen in the form of demotions, denial of leave and other harmful employment actions.