What is considered to be a hostile work environment?

My situation is very long and things are just getting worse for me at my job. I don’t know what to do or where to turn. I have been with my company for over 21 years now, and 3 years ago my son was murdered. Since my return 2 weeks after his death things have gotten really bad for me at there. I know my story is very complex and I really could use some advise.

Asked on October 3, 2010 under Employment Labor Law, Pennsylvania


M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

A "hostile work environment" is a workplace environment that prevents you from doing your job duties reasonably. In such, a superior or co-worker, either by behavior or actions, creates an environment that is counterproductive to your performing your work duties. However, these behaviors typically must be "discriminatory" in nature and are not just a result of rude or unprofessional behavior.

Note:  Workplace discrimination is action taken against you because you are a member of a "protected class"; in other words race, religion, age, disability, sexual orientation, gender, national origin, etc. must not be a factor in your treatment.

Based on the limited facts that you have presented, it's not clear that neither plays a role in your situation. You should be aware that most employment relationships are what is known as "at will", which means that an employer can hire or fire someone for any reason or no reason whatsoever, as well has increase/decrease salary/hours, promote/demote, and generally impose requirements as they see fit. In turn, you can work for an employer, or not, your choice.

Note:  Exceptions to the above would be if there is a stated company policy covering your situation, or there is a union/employment agreement to the contrary, or (as stated above) if your situation has arisen due to some type of discrimination.

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