It can be easy to get lost in the specifics of the question: What is a hostile work environment? After all, each employee may have a different workplace experience from one another. An employee may feel, for example, that their employer was unnecessarily harsh in a performance review when, in fact, the employer was simply giving them standard feedback. So, how does one tell the difference?
First, know that harsh feedback can come in many forms – some of which your employer may be well within their rights to execute. Others, however, may cross the line into unnecessary hostility. This applies to coworkers and your own actions as well. Have there been times when you acted out of synch with your company standards for workplace behavior?
Ultimately, because a “hostile work environment” is a legal term, certain instances of worker behavior may not fall under it. That is not to excuse the behavior, however. For a workplace to be considered hostile, harassment per the federal law definition would need to take place.
Harassment vs. bullying
An action would be considered “bullying” if a coworker or boss performed unfair criticism, gossiped, intimidated or otherwise humiliated you. Harassment, however, is on a different level and will include pervasive communication or actions that seek to criticize or otherwise cause offense for those under a protected class. Protected classes include religion, sex, race, color nationality or disability. Therefore, a “hostile work environment” would technically be a workplace in which this type of harassment is ongoing, causes harm and disrupts work.