The current job market is challenging enough without the added stress of a toxic working environment. With its tenuous setting for workers, the nature of at-will employment presents new challenges for those workers navigating such adverse conditions. A worker placed in a compromising position may have legitimate concerns about retaliation and losing their job. 

Understanding the protected categories

The difference between hostile behavior and that which may be qualified as harassment via a protected class can be a tricky distinction. The list of classes with a protected status include sex, age, race, color, national origin, religion and disability. Harassment may involve the invasion of a person’s physical space, where bullying has more psychological implications. 

Distinguishing bullying from harassment

Bullying may be more challenging to recognize than harassment because it is less overt in its execution. It may take place in the form of internal communications, closed-door conversations and managerial behaviors. Bullying can take a long time to manifest as damaging behavior. It may take some time for the employee to recognize what is being done to them. Those employees that experience harassment may identify any of the three following categories:

Sexual harassment: Unwanted advances and gender discrimination are widespread in the workplace. Women experience more instances of this kind of behavior

Racial Harassment: Derogatory remarks, slurs, insults and other forms of verbal intolerance for a person’s race are all examples of actionable harassment. 

Age harassment: Negative comments about a person’s age, unneeded comments and ignoring work contributions can be considered harassment. 

Making a safe space for workers

The difference between uncouth behavior and harassment is if it creates a hostile working environment for the employees it affects. If you fear retaliation for bringing those practices to the attention of a superior or HR, you may have a harassment claim.