What Defines a Hostile Working Environment?

A "hostile working environment," in and of itself, is not typically grounds for civil action. In the legal sense, the term describes negative working conditions, resulting from uncomfortable interactions between personnel within a shared workspace.


Constitutional law protects individual civil liberties, prohibiting discrimination in the workplace based on age, gender, religion, national origin, genetic make-up or disability. Unwelcome or unwanted conduct or violating these provisions is considered harassing, hostile and discriminatory.


Whether something is considered workplace harassment depends on the severity, duration and nature of the assailant/ victim relationship, as it is subjective and varies widely. In most cases (outside of discrimination), the harassment must be profoundly offensive before making it an illegally hostile environment.


If a co-worker reacts punitively (verbally, physically or professionally) against another co-worker for engaging in a "protected activity"(for instance, whistle blowing), it is called "retaliation," which is hostile and unlawful.

Constructive Discharge

Also illegal, "constructive discharge" often occurs when an employer, who is bound by strict contract terms of employee termination, purposefully creates a hostile environment to encourage an employee's resignation.

What Workplace Harassment Is Not

It is unrealistic to pursue litigation for an isolated incident of harassment unless it is blatantly abusive, shocking or extreme. Generally, too, a workplace is not considered hostile unless it interferes with employee job performance.

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About the Author

Azora ("Zoe") Nichols graduated from Rollins College in 2003, with a B.A. in English literature. She received her national tutoring certification in 2002, when she also became a peer writing consultant. As a freelance writer, she contributes articles across the Web, and on several topics of her interest/expertise.