What Is the Difference Between Bullying and a Hostile Work Environment?

Understanding the dynamics of a workplace can be complex, given the varying personalities, work ethics, and behaviors that come into play. One aspect that often needs clarity is the difference between bullying and a hostile work environment.

Workplace bullying refers to repetitive, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons by one or more perpetrators in a work environment. It is characterized by verbal abuse, offensive conduct, or behaviors. For example, a supervisor may criticize an employee’s work unfairly, belittle them in front of colleagues, or make derogatory remarks about their personal life. These repetitive actions create an ongoing pattern of behavior that constitutes bullying.

On the other hand, a hostile work environment is created when anyone in a workplace commits this type of conduct, and it becomes a condition of continued employment. It goes beyond simple teasing or an offhand comment; the behavior must be so severe and pervasive that it permeates a worker’s ability to perform their job. For instance, an employee might face unwanted sexual advances from a colleague, repeated racial slurs, or continuous derogatory comments about their religion. When such behavior becomes commonplace and affects the individual’s work performance, it creates a hostile work environment.

Legal Implications: When Does it Become Illegal?

Both workplace bullying and hostile work environments can become illegal when they breach established laws. Workplace bullying becomes unlawful when it violates federal or state laws prohibiting discrimination and harassment. These laws protect employees from being bullied based on their race, color, national origin, sex, disability, religion, or age (if the employee is at least 40 years old).

A hostile work environment becomes illegal when the unwelcome conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive. Here, anti-discrimination laws come into play.

Addressing Workplace Issues: What Can Workers Do?

Employees facing such workplace issues have several courses of action. Initially, they may attempt to resolve the issue internally through speaking with the offender, a supervisor, or the HR department. They should also document incidents to establish a record of the behavior.

Employees can file a complaint with a state or federal agency, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), if the internal resolution fails or the behavior continues. In severe cases, legal action may be necessary, and victims may need to seek legal counsel to understand their rights and explore their options.

Our South Jersey Employment Lawyers at The Law Offices of Leo B. Dubler, III, LLC Can Help You if You Work in a Hostile Environment

Sometimes, a workplace is toxic and hostile. Speak with our South Jersey employment lawyers at The Law Offices of Leo B. Dubler, III, LLC today. Call us at 856-235-7075 or contact us online to schedule your free consultation. Located in Mount Laurel and Atlantic City, New Jersey, we serve clients in South Jersey, including Cherry Hill, Burlington County, and Camden County.