What is Hostile Environment Harassment?

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  • Written By: Rhonda Rivera
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 08 February 2020
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Hostile environment harassment is unwelcome — and often illegal — physical, verbal, or sexual harassment in the workplace, classroom, or other professional environment. If a person attempts to repeatedly block another employee’s movements, pushes him or her, or otherwise repeatedly touches the other employee with hostility, this may be classified as hostile environment harassment. The same is true for sexual harassment with unwanted hugs, sexually suggestive gifts, or jokes. Verbal harassment can also contribute to or become this sort of harassment, whether a person intentionally aims to offend or not. This type of harassment must usually take place in a professional environment and interfere with normal workplace operations or learning to be considered hostile environment harassment.

Sexual harassment in a workplace or school can create a hostile environment, whether the harassment is blatant or subtle. This type of harassment can be as casual as sexual jokes, light flirting, or inappropriate hand gestures that make another person uncomfortable and incapable of working or learning properly. Sexual harassment can also be as blatant as forced kissing and touching, making suggestive comments about the another person’s body, or repeatedly asking a person for a date. Sometimes these types of actions are not obviously unwelcome or not considered inappropriate, but they can still be considered a contribution to a hostile environment harassment situation if the behavior is typically considered out of the norm or if the recipient clearly stated he or she did not like the behavior.

Verbal harassment can also be subtle or blatant. There are various forms of communication that might be considered verbal, such as texting, mobile phone calls, and e-mail. Like sexual harassment, context is considered when judging whether or not a joke, statement, or comment is considered harassment. If the verbal abuse interferes with the employee or student’s work or school performance in any way, it may also be classified as hostile environment harassment. Similar to sexual harassment, verbal harassment is often illegal, though the legality depends on the specific region and situation.

Physical harassment in the workplace or school can also be harmful to other people and their performance. Some examples of physical harassment that may fall under hostile environment harassment are pushing, pulling, or blocking someone’s way. Repeatedly bumping or brushing against someone in an obviously intentional manner may also contribute. Once again, context, intent, and the results of the behavior matter most when determining if actions can be called hostile environment harassment.

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Post 3

@pastanaga - Frankly, I don't think it's that hard to draw the line. Just ask the person to stop whatever it is that's bothering you (as long as that thing is within reason).

If they don't stop, it's harassment. Asking someone out is not harassment, in my opinion. Asking them out repeatedly even if they said no, is.

I think people who report harassment when there isn't any should be treated just as badly as people who harass, because it is a form of harassment to report someone for no reason.

A hostile work environment shouldn't be tolerated, no matter who it's coming from.

Post 2

@pleonasm - I think the misconceptions come when it get used for more trivial things. The problem is that people are at work for such a large chunk of their lives. Something like sixty percent of people meet their future husband or wife at work.

But how can you be expected to do that if you worry that any kind of flirty behavior might result in sexual harassment charges?

Many working places won't tolerate that at all, so they put up a blanket ban on any kind of relationships between staff, which also seems to discriminate in my mind.

But where do you draw the line? I mean, is asking a girl out going to get you in trouble? It could possibly be termed sexual harassment under some legislation, but if no one ever asked anyone out, where would the next generation come from?

Post 1

I know it can sometimes seem like people make too big a deal out of this, but it really is an important issue. It can be so difficult to find a job at the moment, and once you find one you don't want to lose it.

But sexual harassment can be like torture. Having to submit to someone's pawing, or having to listen to jokes people are making about you, or at least about your gender can make you feel awful every day.

Nobody should have to suffer through that, not in this day and age.

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