What makes a hostile work environment? Is it an unreasonable boss? Is it that one colleague, who thinks sexual harassment is a hilarious brand of humour? Or is it the stifling and unpleasant workplace environment that generally lacks perks, privileges, benefits and recognition for your efforts?
While many of the above elements can contribute to a toxic workplace, there are a few factors that determine whether your work environment is crossing over into illegal territory. If you care to keep your company free of hostile workplace claims, seek the advice of a legal professional provided by your business legal cover.
What Is A Toxic Workplace?
A hostile work environment or toxic workplace is defined as a work environment that negatively affects your wellbeing through prolonged anxiety. These are the offices where gossip, fighting, coercion, backstabbing, manipulation, blackmail, sexual harassment, and abuse are the norm.
The legal definition of a toxic workplace includes the following elements:
- The actions or behaviour discriminate against protected classifications such as age, gender, religion, race, marital status, etc.
- The behaviour or communication is unavoidable and persistent. These are not limited to one or two off-colour remarks that annoyed a colleague in the break room. It’s best to keep a record of these incidents and report them to HR in the event of an intervention.
- The organisation does nothing to investigate and/or discourage the offending behaviour.
- The hostile behaviour, actions, or communication must be severe enough to interfere with an employee’s daily work/productivity or in some way hamper his/her career progress.
- The employer knew about the actions or behaviour and did not sufficiently intervene. In this instance, the employer can be liable for the creation of a toxic work environment.
When A Hostile Work Environment Becomes A Legal Issue
Legal cases born of a hostile work environment usually paint a similar story:
- Were the incidents unwelcome?
- Were the incidents discriminatory toward a protected class?
- Did the events occur repeatedly over a period of time?
- Was the incident both objectively and subjectively hostile?
If the answer to all of the above is a yes, you may face a lawsuit.
The Legal Costs Of A Toxic Workplace
But a hostile work environment can cost you outside the courtroom too. It’s no secret that productive work time is lost. The employee on the receiving end of workplace hostility is more likely to take more sick days to stay home and avoid their workplace bully. They may also file a workers’ compensation claim or even feel pushed to resign.
Now let’s do the math on the legal costs of workplace harassment and a toxic workplace environment. Apart from reduced overall workplace morale and lowered productivity, a toxic workplace can set you back in terms of litigation costs and regulatory penalties. Should your company be faced with accusations of maintaining a hostile work environment, instead of a nurturing one, it will help to have reliable business legal cover in your corner. Business legal insurance can make legal representation and advice affordable for organisations of any size. Get a legal insurance quote now!