A hostile work environment is legally defined as one where a boss, manager, team leader or other co-worker’s actions, behavior, intentions or communications make working uncomfortable or impossible to continue. These behaviors may also be discriminatory in nature. Many employees believe that a hostile work environment must occur within the workplace for an employee to file a complaint, but this is not the case. The federal government has ruled that an employer's activities outside of work can carry over to the work environment.
Charges based on discrimination may relate to sex, color, national origin, religion, disability, sexual orientation or reprisal, according to the EEOC. These charges are serious and result in legal penalties, including fines and possible imprisonment based on the seriousness of the allegation.
A manager is responsible for the work environment of his employees. If an employee feels threatened by hostility or discrimination outside the workplace, in a manner that prevents him from performing his job properly, then the manager must take appropriate action. All allegations must be taken seriously. In New Hampshire, for example, an employer was prosecuted for creating a hostile work environment in a bar outside of work hours.
All allegations should be handled by an investigation and inquiry to determine the severity of the allegation and hostile work environment. When the incident occurs outside the workplace, the same steps should be taken as if the incident happened inside the work environment. A person familiar with the situation should inform the company's EEO manager, who will create an incident report with information detailing the incident. This information will be critical to the investigation. Employees also have the right to report to the EEOC directly in the event they feel their concerns are not being handled judiciously.
The goals of an investigation should always be to stop the behaviors that are causing a hostile work environment. Training, disciplinary measures and in some cases termination of the offending party may be necessary to create a safe and healthy work environment for remaining employees. The employee who has been the victim of the harassment also has the right to a formal complaint and restoration process under the federal EEO investigation process.
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