According to the Duhaime legal website, the hostile work environment definition is any harmful action towards an employee by a fellow employee or manager that would make working conditions unbearable. There are several forms of behavior that can lend towards this negative work atmosphere. If the situation is unavoidable and behaviors are persistent, employees should take legal action and in the meantime, seek work elsewhere.
Harassment is one behavior that causes employees to fear going to work each day. An employee should never be made to feel ostracized or discriminated against on the basis of skin color, ethnic background, sexual orientation or any other factor. Harassing behaviors include discrimination as described, as well as oppression, intimidation, slander, threats and use of offensive language. Employers and co-workers alike have been known to use these tactics. What's worse is when employers attempt to "pressure" employees into quitting their jobs on an unsound basis. Employers may stoop to this behavior if threatened with whistle-blowing attempts against their own shady practices or to evade dolling out unemployment pay. These methods are unethical, unfair and illegal. In many cases, employers have ample grounds to try the employer in a court of law and would be wise to discuss doing so with a lawyer.
Sexual harassment is a common form of harassment seen frequently in the fast food and restaurant industry, as often times male employers will target young, college-age women who are naive to their legal rights. This behavior gets swept under the rug. Uncomfortable female employees will either accept the behavior in defeat or quit their jobs because they are uncomfortable without taking appropriate legal action. Small, family-owned businesses are more susceptible to work hostility as they do not have to answer to corporate entities and employee complaint filing procedures are limited.
If you are placed in a directly threatening situation, you should terminate work immediately and report the behavior to the appropriate authorities. Hostile work environments are not to be taken lightly; however, bear in mind that there are some behaviors that do not constitute hostility. Mindless office pranks and bad office politics such as gossip are not enough on their own to prove hostile from a legal standpoint. Speak with a lawyer to get all the facts and immediately express to harassers that they are making you uncomfortable. Doing so could solve the problem head on and keep your work environment pleasant.