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Navigate a hostile work environment

published: 05-09-2016
Filed under: Harassment, Workplace
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A hostile work environment can impact work performance and well-being, but help is available. There generally are two hostile-workplace scenarios: unlawful harassment—also known as unlawful discrimination or prohibited harassment—and bullying. There can be a difference in how these situations are handled when reported, so it helps to know the difference.

Unlawful harassment occurs when an employee is subject to unwelcome verbal and/or physical conduct or feels discriminated against based on his/her sex, race, color, religion, or national origin (as identified in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964).

Sexual harassment is unlawful harassment and gender-based discrimination. It includes unwelcome sexual advances and/or verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Unlawful-harassment behavior often repeats and can interfere with work performance.

Bullying can include similar behaviors, but isn’t based on one’s sex, race, etc. Employees can feel victimized through sabotaged work efforts, offensive conduct, and/or verbal abuse. Whether the behavior stems from unlawful harassment or bullying, it’s unacceptable and shouldn’t be tolerated.

Here are some tips to help develop a plan of action. And act sooner rather than later.

  • Tell the offender(s) that the conduct is unwelcome and offensive. Ask him/her to stop.
  • If it continues, or if you’re uncomfortable directly confronting the offender(s), report it to your supervisor immediately. Your supervisor has a duty to respond promptly and help prevent recurrences.
  • If your supervisor doesn’t respond—or is the source of the harassment—go to your higher chain-of-command. You also can file a formal complaint with the Inspector General, Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO), or any chaplain.
  • If you’re working in the civilian sector, contact your civilian personnel action center and/or your EEO office.
  • Finally, if you or someone you know is feeling physically threatened, contact law enforcement immediately.

Learn more about the different branch policies:


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