The Anatomy of a Hostile Work Environment

At least once a week I receive a phone call from a member, who wants to report that he/she is the victim of a hostile work environment. The complaint is often along the lines of My boss is always mean to me. He is always saying rude things to me and he often swears. He is always criticizing my work for no legitimate reason.Such a complaint is misconduct but probably does not constitute, from a legal standpoint, a hostile work environment.

A hostile work environment exists when someone’s behavior creates an environment that is uncomfortable for another person due to discrimination. The element of discrimination is key. From a legal perspective, a supervisor, who acts in the manner described above, without the element of discrimination, does not constitute a hostile work environment. It is serious misconduct to be sure; it just does not involve a hostile work environment.

So, let’s change the above scenario. Let’s say the employee’s complaint is that her boss is always saying rude things about women. He often uses a derogatory word in reference to women. And let’s say her complaint includes the fact that when the boss criticizes her work he always says something to the effect that women’s work is never as good as the work men do. Now you have gender bias, which is a form of discrimination, and the supervisor’s conduct probably does involve creating a hostile work environment.

In order to establish a hostile work environment the employee needs to show that the actions taken were discriminatory or harassing based on race, religion, national origin, gender, age, etc. The employee also needs to demonstrate that they were subjected to either verbal or physical harassment as a result of discrimination, that the conduct has persisted over a significant period of time, and the hostile behavior is severe. It is also critical for management to be notified of the behavior.

Employees often suffer from an inappropriate and uncomfortable work environment due to employee misconduct other than the creation of a hostile work environment. Such misconduct may include a violation of your Department’s rules and policies on how to deal with other employees, and could result in disciplinary action up to and including termination being taken against the offending employee or supervisor. However unless the misconduct involved discrimination the misconduct would not include creating a hostile work environment.

Failing to treat fellow employees and/or subordinates with courtesy and respect is serious misconduct whether or not it involves a hostile work environment.  

– Paul Marks, EAA Labor Representative


List of Departments Represented by Paul Marks

  • Cannabis Reg
  • City Attorney
  • Emergency Management Department (EMD)
  • Fire Civilian
  • Fire/Police Pension
  • LACERS (Retirement)
  • LA Convention Center
  • Municipal Police Officers (MPO)
  • Police – LAPD

Get in Contact with Labor Rep Paul Marks