Signs of Hostile Work Environment: Types and Behaviors

Certain conditions in the workplace can be symptoms of hostile work environment. A sniffle might not seem like a big deal, but it could be a symptom for a cold or a life-threatening disease. In the office, a small behavior might not seem like a big deal, but it’s constant re-occurrence could signal an ongoing hostile environment.

Signs of Hostile Work Environment: Types and Behaviors

When things are off in the office, employee performance often suffers. That’s not ideal for employees or employers. Basically, severe workplace behavior may show a pattern of hostile work environment.

5 Main Types of Hostile Work Environment

Although hostile work environment is often associated with sexual harassment, hostile work environment can be defined by other illegal employment situations. The key is that hostile work environment is determined to be such by severe and reoccurring conduct. One-time bad behavior won’t be considered hostile work environment.

1. Employment Discrimination

Discrimination in the workplace is a major sign that things are not well or healthy in the work environment. Workers might miss out on certain benefits and promotions due to their race, age, sex, religion, or disability. This is illegal. An employee may be able to recognize the occurrence of discrimination by the pattern of behavior.

2. Sexual Harassment

Hostile work environment often goes hand in hand with sexual harassment. Inappropriate sexual innuendos to touching someone is considered sexual harassment. When workers hang up explicit images in the work area or send each other nude images, this is also sexual harassment. Quid pro quo sexual harassment, where a manager requests a sexual favor from an employee in return for something, is most common.

3. Threatening Behavior

Verbal or physical intimidation of job loss or salary reduction from a boss or a manager falls under the category of hostile work environment. When interaction becomes physical, the employee’s health can be on the line. Employees may sustain physical injuries or emotional trauma, such as anxiety attacks and nervous ticks.

4. OSHA-violating Work Facilities

Employment law obligates employers to provide employees with a safe working environment. This means that employees should be outfitted with appropriate safety gear and work with equipment that is up to date on safety features. When employees are forced to work in a dangerous environment without the appropriate health and safety steps, this is considered a hostile work environment.

7 Hostile Workplace Behaviors to Watch

Some employment situations are obviously illegal, but some of the behaviors leading to those situations aren’t. However, these behaviors could be an indicator that something is not quite right in your workplace. Some behaviors might not be evidence enough to prove hostile work environment, they can be a piece of the puzzle.

Poor Communication

Coworkers discriminate against other workers by knowingly or unknowingly withholding work information from them, either for projects or events. Sometimes this looks like complete lack of communication on projects but heavy-handed criticism when you don’t meet expectations. Bosses might encourage the behavior, taking credit for your work or refusing to give you growing opportunities.


Lack of small talk and casual as well as business interaction between coworkers can be an indicator that something is not healthy in the workplace. When coworkers are comfortable with each other, they’ll discuss big and little things with each other. This will make working together better.

Severe Schedules

While most workplaces are moving to more flexible working hours, some still must have strict schedules for their businesses. That’s okay and appropriate. Sometimes companies can get so wound up over minutes worked or not worked that they miss the importance of work quality. Strict and severe work schedules can create a stressful workplace for some employees.

Screaming Matches

When professionalism is lost for all-out screaming matches in the workplace, something isn’t right. Employees should treat one another with respect. Raised voices undercuts professionalism and productivity. Coworkers and employees should never raise their voices to their managers or to one another.

Shame Culture

Some workplaces foster an environment where coworkers belittle one another. This behavior can happen to the person’s face or as a backstab. Employees who take advantage of their coworkers’ weaknesses fail to create a teamwork environment where the business succeeds.

Constant Scrutiny

Office efficiency decreases when micromanagement occurs in the workplace. Workers with certain projects assigned to them will not flourish under close scrutiny, where the work is picked a part. Of course, quality of work is imperative, but workers need to trust one another to perform their work well. This type of behavior can result in anxiety for employees.

Office Cliques

Cliques should have stopped in middle school, but workplace cliques can be just as detrimental if not more. These groups of workers encourage an undercurrent of dog-eat-dog competition. Cliques tend to share gossip, ask favors, and create an ugly work environment.

Cheat Sheet: Questions to Analyze Your Workplace

  • Are you chronically stressed out?
  • Do you overwork?
  • Are coworkers bullying you?
  • Is office gossip creating a toxic workplace?
  • Does your boss undermine your hard work?
  • Are your coworkers professional?
  • Is sexual harassment part of the work environment?
  • Have you been punished for complaining about an uncomfortable workplace situation?
  • How often does this hostile conduct occur?
  • What evidence do you have of this conduct?
  • How do you want your employer to handle the situation?


Hostile work environment can be detrimental not only to employees but to their work environment as well. Employees who believe they’re dealing with a hostile work environment should consult with an employment lawyer to determine what their legal options are.

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