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Are you suffering in a 'hostile work environment?'

Most all of us at some point in our careers have felt like we were in a hostile work environment. Unfair bosses who are quick to blame but rarely compliment employees exist in almost every company. So do colleagues who don't seem to have gotten all of their junior high bullying out of their systems.

However, "hostile work environment" is specifically defined under the law. It involves negative conduct or comments that are related to characteristics that are legally protected. These include race, gender, religion, age, sexual orientation, nationality and disability.

For a work environment to be deemed "hostile," the harassing comments or conduct must unreasonably interfere with someone's ability to perform his or her job, or the behavior of those in the workplace must be intimidating or offensive. In some cases, the comments or behaviors are also considered sexual harassment.

A hostile work environment can negatively impact a victim's emotional and even physical well-being. It can also affect others in the workplace who see or hear the harassment.

While those at fault for a hostile work environment are often people in managerial or supervisory positions, any employee, client, vendor, contractor or even someone visiting the workplace can be guilty.

Too often, people put up with harassment and even threats because they want to get ahead in the company or simply need to keep their jobs. However, you can and should take action to stop this kind of behavior in the workplace.

The best place to start is usually by informing the person or people harassing you that you find their behavior abusive, hostile or intimidating. If it doesn't stop or worsens, you should go to your human resources department. If that doesn't solve the problem and resigning is not a viable option for you, it may be wise to seek guidance from a West Virginia employment law attorney to determine whether, indeed, the behavior you're enduring is unlawful and find out what legal recourse you have.

Source: The Balance, "What is a Hostile Work Environment?," Alison Doyle, accessed April 18, 2018

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