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Hostile Work Environment? Here’s What You Can Do

You started your new job with high hopes only to discover that you are now working in a hostile environment where verbal bullying, putdowns, and sniping are all-too-common. It’s easy to feel despondent and overwhelmed, but you can take positive action. Depending on the type of unwelcome harassment and what you’ve already tried to do to stop it, legal action may even be a possibility.

Take it on One on One

Odd though it may seem, some people just don’t know that their verbal put-downs are unacceptable in a professional environment. They may think they’re joking or use them as part of a tough-guy image, even though their “jokes” aren’t funny and their behavior is frankly upsetting. Others might be fully aware of how bad their behavior is, but think they’ve cowed you into submission and can get away with it. Either way, it’s time to get assertive while remaining respectful and open to communication.

The first thing you can do is to approach the person who is making your and your colleagues’ life a misery and tell them to stop. Do this when you are in a calm state of mind and be ready to do some listening. You can do it in writing too, and if you do, you’ll have proof that you tried to resolve the issue in a mature way. That might come in handy if you have to put your complaint to the ultimate test in a court of law – more on this later.

Take it to HR

Workplace bullies can be really scary, so you might not feel comfortable with confronting one. Or, perhaps, you did try, but your complaint was ignored or brushed off as being trivial or oversensitive. Your next port of call is the HR department.

Most companies have a grievance procedure that employees can use to lodge a complaint against a coworker or superior. They may act as mediators between the aggrieved employee and the offending one, and if they think that the company’s code of conduct has been violated, disciplinary action may result.

Once again, record dates and details as well as the results of your call for intervention. Keep copies of any documentation and correspondence relating to your complaint. Meanwhile, keep a record of incidents and any other evidence of your toxic colleague’s unacceptable behavior.

Take it to Court

We all know that sexual harassment is illegal, but so is repeated verbal abuse based on race, religion, gender, nationality, genetics, age or disability. Your harasser needn’t be your boss either. It could be a coworker or even a client.

The main things that you have to prove are that the harassment was unwelcome, abusive, upsetting, and so frequently repeated that the workplace became a hostile environment in which to work. Gather your collected evidence and consult a lawyer to find out whether you have a case worse prosecuting.

If things have come this far, you’re probably already planning to resign, even if that means adjusting your career plan, but don’t let that get in the way of getting justice. You deserve compensation for the mental anguish you have suffered, and your tormentor, plus the company that failed to protect you, need a wake-up call. Do it for yourself, for justice, and for the sake of the next person who will occupy your post.