Most people rely on their jobs to survive, support their families, save up for retirement, and pay for health insurance. As a result, companies have a lot of power over their workers. When a work environment turns away from professionalism, this power imbalance can have devastating effects.
A toxic work environment is no joke. Harassment, discrimination, bullying, or abuse from your coworkers or superiors can lead to serious mental and health issues. A hostile work environment is also illegal under both federal and state laws.
U.S. law requires employers to take steps against toxic work environments, but some companies ignore these rules or fail to fight harassment or discrimination in the workplace. The result often leads to a loss of morale or motivation among workers that bleeds into their personal lives, too. You may experience depression, stress, or burnout. You may find yourself having to take off more shifts or even file for workers’ compensation or disability.
No one should experience this type of abuse at work. Do you know the most troubling signs that you’re in a hostile work environment? We’ll tell you what they are – and what you can do about them.
1. Denying Employees Their Legal Rights
U.S. federal, state, local, and city laws protect workers from employers who would otherwise take advantage of their labor. As a worker, you have rights. Not only that, but the law requires employers to proactively communicate employee rights to their workers.
You may have received information about your rights with your job onboarding materials. If your employer qualifies under certain laws, they may have to put up informational posters where employees will see them. But some employers fail to tell workers their rights. Their employees may not realize they qualify for sick time or family leave, for example.
Some companies may go even further and discourage their employees from exercising their legally protected rights. Does your employer look down on workers who take time off? Do workers who take leave end up losing shifts or getting fired? Are you and your coworkers afraid to take any sick time to care for yourself or your family?
Denying your rights – either explicitly or implied through a company culture that overworks its employees – contributes to a toxic work environment.
2. Harassment, Discrimination, or Abuse
Workplace harassment and discrimination are illegal in the U.S. under federal and state laws. Still, abuse like sexual harassment and racial harassment still happens across the country.
Harassment could include any unwelcome or persistent conduct based on certain characteristics, like race, age, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, marital status, medical condition, genetic information, or pregnancy.
Harassment could involve offensive jokes, name-calling, slurs, intimidation or threats, sexual comments or advances, bullying, emotional abuse, physical assault, public put-downs, ridicule, or mockery. “Quid pro quo” arrangements for sexual favors are also illegal. You may be experiencing harassment if someone sabotages or interferes with your ability to do your job.
If you’ve experienced harassment at work and your employer has failed to address the problem, chances are high you’re facing a toxic work environment.
3. Tolerance of Inappropriate Behavior
Unfortunately, toxic work environments tend to grow into major problems when company management or leadership refuses to address inappropriate behavior. Instead of taking action against harassment or discrimination in the workplace, your company may choose to protect the people who perform well but behave in problematic ways. In some cases, abuse may come from the top, setting the entire company culture to tolerate abusive conduct.
You may have a toxic work environment if your superiors look the other way when harassment happens. Your company may choose to silence the victims of abuse rather than hold the guilty party accountable. But you shouldn’t have to walk on eggshells around an abusive workplace, no matter how high up the offender may be in the company.
4. No Legal Reporting Procedures
If you’ve experienced harassment, abuse, bullying, or intimidation at work, your workplace should have the proper procedures in place to report your claim. You should be able to make a complaint with HR privately and safely. Under the law, you can even report harassment you witnessed, even if you weren’t personally the victim of the abuse.
But if you work in a toxic or hostile environment, you may not feel safe enough to actually report your harasser. If HR doesn’t have your best interests in mind, your harasser may find out about your complaint and take action against you. Or HR may “look into” your case and “resolve” it without finding any evidence of harassment or discrimination. They may simply go through the motions of reporting your complaint without actually addressing the problem.
If you’re afraid to report harassment or if you’ve already filed a report without any actual resolution, you may be working in a toxic or hostile workplace.
5. A History of Retaliation
The most toxic work environments not only fail to protect their employees against harassment, but they retaliate against workers who experience the abuse.
In a worst-case scenario, your employer may fire you, terminate your contract, or lay you off instead of dealing with the root cause of the toxic work environment. Not only do you lose a source of income, but you may be left with a poor recommendation on your resume. Your employer may even fudge your performance reviews and blame you for getting fired.
Retaliation is against the law, and yet some companies still illegally fire employees for reporting or even speaking up against harassment and abuse in the workplace. Unfortunately, these companies are often the most toxic because they refuse to address their problems. If you were victimized by harassment or abuse by a superior, you may not be the only one.
U.S. laws do not look kindly on companies that foster toxic work environments. If you’ve been fired for reporting abuse in your workplace, you could have a wrongful termination lawsuit. You could recover damages for the pain and suffering you endured because of the harassment, as well as any wages (including future income) you lost as a result of getting fired.
Are You In A Toxic or Hostile Work Environment?
At Wilshire Law Firm, our top-rated employment lawyers fight for employees to get the MAXIMUM possible payout for the injustices they’ve had to suffer in the workplace. We take our cases on a contingency-fee basis, which means you don’t have to worry about paying any legal fees unless we win your case for you. If you are stuck in a hostile or toxic work environment, we’re here to defend your rights and fight by your side.