In the United States, there are generally two different forms of harassment: quid-pro-quo harassment and a hostile work environment. As the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission notes, a hostile work environment occurs when offensive conduct in a workplace is severe or common enough that the workplace itself would be intimidating or abusive to a reasonable person.
With more than half of women and many men experiencing sexually inappropriate conduct, sexist comments and other harassment, it is essential that employees know how to identify a hostile work environment.
How can sexual harassment create a hostile work environment?
While sexual harassment must be severe or pervasive to be considered a hostile work environment, a wide variety of inappropriate actions can contribute to a workplace issue. This can involve severe harassment, but it can also involve ongoing issues with sexual conversations or inappropriate images displayed in the office.
Some examples of sexual harassment that can create a hostile work environment include:
- Sexual jokes or comments made in the workplace, including innuendos
- Displaying inappropriately sexual material like posters in the office
- Asking intrusive questions about sex
- Making suggestive gestures or sounds
- Commenting about an employee’s physical appearance, body or clothing
- Sending inappropriate messages
- Inappropriate touching in the workplace
Whether caused by the inappropriate conduct of a supervisor, contractor or another employee, the intimidating or offensive nature of a hostile work environment can make it difficult for employees to complete their daily tasks.
If you or another employee suffers from a hostile work environment, it can be important to take action to prevent the situation from continuing or growing worse. Documenting the hostility experienced in a workplace, taking note of others who witnessed the inappropriate behavior and reporting these issues to your employer can help create positive change. You may also want to speak to an attorney to explore the legal options available to you.