When an employee feels unsafe or uncomfortable at work due to the comments, conduct, actions or inactions of co-workers or managers, the environment is often referred to as a hostile work environment. Not all behavior that is rude, ignorant or unfair constitutes the legal definition of a hostile environment, but those feeling hostility in the workplace may have rights that are protected under Minnesota and federal law. Inappropriate conduct in the workplace can become a hostile environment when the hostile actions are directed at a person or a group of people and it is due, at least in part, to the person or group’s protected status.

What is a hostile work environment?

A hostile work environment is a form of discrimination, and it is illegal to subject someone to a hostile work environment. For the work environment to be considered hostile under the law, the hostility must be so pervasive or persistent that it adversely affects the ability of a person or group to perform their job. In determining what degree of hostility rises to the level of an actionable hostile environment claim, the law asks whether a reasonable person, in the same or similar circumstances would find the conduct offensive. It is important to know that hostile or harassing conduct by supervisors and managers is viewed as more serious because it is more likely to adversely affect employment.

Is there more than one form of hostile work environment?

Yes. There are several types of hostile work environment claims. Most people have heard about sexual harassment in the workplace. This occurs when employees are subjected to sexually inappropriate conduct or comments that rise to the level of hostile work environment. Sexual harassment is gender neutral. That means that men can sexually harass men or women and women can sexually harass men or women. A hostile work environment may also be based on a person or group’s protected status, such as genderdisabilityracenational originsexual orientationagereligion or marital status.

What are some examples of hostile work environment?

Conduct that could constitute a hostile work environment or employment harassment may include:

  • An employee’s property is vandalized or defaced with racist, sexist, sexual or other offensive words;
  • Racial or sexual slurs are used against an employee or in reference to any person;
  • An employer overtly ignores the reports of discrimination/harassment made by employees;
  • An employee or group of employees is routinely subjected to co-workers telling jokes or making derogatory comments about mental illness, depression, anxiety disorders or mental retardation;
  • An employee is subjected to threats of job termination if sexual favors are not returned;
  • An employee is exposed to unwanted verbal and physical contact.

Contact Our Minnesota Employment Lawyers

When employees find themselves in a hostile work environment, they may not know how to act or what to do. The employment lawyers at Wanta Thome have years of experience litigating hostile environment lawsuits. If you believe you work in a hostile environment or have been retaliated against for reporting a hostile work environment, contact us for a free initial consultation.


Contact us for a no-obligation confidential consultation with our employment law team.