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Hostile Work Environment

If you are working in an environment where you feel harassed, intimidated, or oppressed, and this atmosphere is affecting your ability to work, then you may be the victim of a hostile work environment. Both Federal and Missouri law seek to assure a safe working environment for every employee, and the law recognizes the employee’s right to use the courts to end hostile behavior and seek compensation for harm suffered.

Examples of a Hostile Work Environment

In short, a hostile work environment occurs when an employee is facing harassment due to sex, age, disability, religion, race, national origin, gender, and so on. Keep in mind that an employer throwing a stapler across the room might not constitute a hostile work environment, as this would be more of an isolated incident of frustration.

Instead, you can better understand what constitutes a hostile work environment by looking at the two most common ways that this occurs, including “quid pro quo harassment” and “hostile work environment harassment.”


Quid Pro Quo Harassment

Quid pro quo harassment occurs when an employee faces a possible punishment (termination, demotion, denial of promotion, etc) for refusing sexual advances or requests for sexual favors. Quid pro quo harassment can also be religious in nature. Some examples of quid pro quo harassment may include:

  • A supervisor fires an employee because he/she refused to be sexually cooperative

  • A supervisor requires an employee to take part in a religious act as a term of employment

  • A supervisor gives preferential treatment to employees that are sexually cooperative or who join the supervisor’s religion


Hostile Work Environment Harassment

Unlike quid pro quo harassment, hostile work environment harassment does not involve a “give in…or else” type situation. Instead, hostile work environment harassment occurs when an employee is subject to an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work atmosphere. Some example of this harassment include:

  • Discussions of sexual activities

  • Offensive jokes concerning race, sex, disability, or other protected bases

  • Unnecessary touching or displaying sexually suggestive or racially insensitive pictures

  • Crude language

  • Indecent gestures

  • Sabotaging an employee’s work

  • Hostile physical conduct


When Harassment Violates the Law

Many hostile work environment claims boil down to a “he said / she said,” which is hard to hold up in courts. To avoid this situation, it’s helpful to take careful notes. In order for the harassment to be a clear violation of law, it needs to be both unwanted and based on the victim’s protected status.

For the harassment to be a clear violation of law, it needs to be both unwanted and based on the victim’s protected status. Furthermore, the conduct must be both:

  • Subjectively abusive to the victim

  • Objectively severe and pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would find hostile or abusive

Several factors are considered in harassment cases, ranging from the frequency of the conduct to the effect on the victim’s psychological well-being.


Legal Options for a Hostile Work Environment

Victims have several legal options when facing a hostile work environment. For instance, before filing a lawsuit in a Missouri court, the victim may have to first file a “Charge of Discrimination” with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights. If filing at the federal level, the victim may have to file a Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC.

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