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Does your rude co-worker make your work environment hostile?

Just about every work environment has that one man or woman who makes everyone cringe when they walk in the room. That person can be counted on to make bad jokes, be loud or otherwise act in a manner not socially acceptable to the rest of the group.

Does that mean that your work environment is hostile? Probably not. The law actually requires much more than a micromanaging boss, a socially awkward co-worker or a lack of benefits to make a hostile work environment. The law accounts for cheap bosses and the fact that not everyone will get along all of the time.

What does it take to make a hostile work environment?

The issues already mentioned may make not make you want to get out of bed in the morning and rush to work, but the law does not consider these situations bad enough to be considered a hostile work environment. In order for that to be the case, the actions and behaviors of managers, supervisors or co-workers have to be egregious enough that you are unable to perform your job duties. In addition, the words or actions must also discriminate against you or another employee in some manner.

For instance, that socially awkward co-worker may be loud, wear too much perfume or make bad jokes, but is not discriminating against anyone. However, if he or she makes sexually explicit comments or jokes, racial slurs or some other comments or actions that discriminate against a protected group, it could very well create a hostile work environment.

However, the behavior cannot be a one-time incident. If you speak to the other person and let him or her know that the words or actions offend you, the actions may stop. This is not a hostile work environment. For it to be so, the harassment and discrimination must last for an appreciable amount of time and be pervasive. Of course, you must make your employer aware of the situation and show that your employer failed to investigate and resolve the issues creating the hostile work environment. 

Where to turn to next

After exhausting all avenues within the company, you may need to go outside of it to find a resolution. Your employer may not retaliate against you for doing so. You do not have to put up with a hostile work environment, and help is available to get you through this difficult time.

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