Workplace bullying can make for a very unfortunate environment for employees. However, bullying behaviors do not always rise to the level of harassment and discrimination, both of which are illegal.
Accordingly, employees must understand the differences between the two to take the right actions in the event of legitimate harassment. Here are a few factors to keep in mind.
Signs of a hostile work environment
While workplace bullying can make for a highly unpleasant experience, it is not the same as a hostile work environment. This phrase refers to situations where certain people receive discrimination or harassment based on key characteristics. These characteristics include religion, sex, sexual orientation, race and other characteristics that receive protection from Title VII laws.
As an example, some supervisors behave in a combative manner towards all workers, regardless of personal characteristics. Others may single out specific workers for harassment based on the factors above. In the latter case, a targeted employee could easily claim a hostile work environment.
Other circumstances to consider
In addition to the nature of bullying behaviors, you must also consider other factors when it comes to harassment claims. For instance, repeated behaviors can establish a pattern of wrongdoing in a workplace. However, even a single instance of harassment or abuse can be enough to provide merit to a claim.
Additionally, harassment that includes physical threats or intimidation is a highly serious matter. As is harassment that inhibits an employee’s job performance. By the same token, harassing behaviors from supervisors, as opposed to co-workers, can establish a stronger case.
Employers typically have two defenses against hostile work environment claims. First, they can show that they made a reasonable attempt to prevent poor behaviors. Second, they can attempt to show that the worker filing the claim did take advantage of applicable solutions.