Understand your rights in a hostile workplace
Most of us have experienced conflict on the job, but when is a work environment actually considered toxic? Identifying a toxic work environment can be a challenge because workers may not be treated equally.
Toxicity is also subjective when it comes to social settings; one person’s version of toxicity may be just mildly uncomfortable or “completely fine” to someone else in the same workplace.
Nevertheless, for employees who feel they are in a toxic or hostile work environment, the potential effects on their mental and physical health are very real.
The following article will help Great Falls workers determine whether their Montana workplace might be a toxic environment and explore helpful strategies for navigating the situation.
Characteristics of a toxic work environment
Although there is no concrete definition for what makes a workplace toxic, there are some common characteristics.
Unhealthy dynamics within a place of employment often involve the following:
- Fear of retaliation
Businesses that have a toxic work culture generally have low levels of trust between management and employees and even among coworkers.
People who work in toxic settings are more likely to experience discrimination, and department leaders may discourage employees from maintaining a healthy separation between work and home life.
It is also not uncommon for workers and managers to pursue inappropriate relationships in toxic workplaces.
Deciding whether to stay in a toxic workplace
Employees often respond to workplace toxicity differently depending on their individual personalities and personal situations.
Some workers may choose to stay at their current job either for the short-term or for the foreseeable future for many reasons, including a challenging job market, the immediate need for steady income, and fear of change.
Other workers stay because they don’t think they’ll be able to find a job in a similar position with the same pay or a better salary.
Staying in a hostile work environment can cause depression, anxiety, and physical health problems, including high blood pressure and stress-related disorders. The constant stress from work can also aggravate pre-existing health conditions the worker may have already had.
Leaving a toxic work culture
Employees often find that their best option is to leave a toxic workplace behind as quickly as possible. However, many are unable to quit before securing another source of income. For workers who want to quit but are unable to due to finances, creating an exit timeline can give them a goal to look forward to while taking steps to find another job.
If you choose to stay in a toxic environment, it’s always wise to interview for other positions, set aside some extra money (if possible) and have an actionable backup plan.
The reality is that toxic workplaces (and the management in charge of them) are often unstable, so even if you intend to continue working for your employer, you should be aware that you could get terminated abruptly.
How workers can address a toxic work environment
If you choose to stay and try to address the issues in your workplace, you may want to consider a couple of different approaches.
Discuss the issue with management
Workers who feel comfortable voicing their concerns to the “higher-ups” may do so individually or with a group of like-minded coworkers. If management is unaware of the toxic situation, informing them of the situation may prove beneficial.
Nevertheless, there’s always a chance that the workers who are causing the toxic situation may target you for speaking out. Additionally, if management participates in the toxic behavior, the worker who complains may be ridiculed, harassed or even terminated.
Joining other coworkers when communicating with company leadership is generally a safer way to try to bring about a change in the workplace. Companies are less likely to retaliate against multiple workers at once. In the event that a company does take action against those who speak up, each of the workers will have consistent evidence that may help prove they were wrongfully targeted.
Confront individual workers who create the toxic environment
If there is one employee in particular who is creating a hostile dynamic at work, communicating with that person directly may also be an option. If both parties are peers, there is a lower risk of retaliatory termination.
However, if the individual who’s causing the toxic dynamic is close to leadership or is part of a larger group of workers who behave similarly, there’s a risk that the worker who speaks out may be targeted with bullying and harassment.
Legal protections for employees in toxic work environments
Currently, the law provides relatively limited protection for employees who work in toxic environments. However, some legal options may exist.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 offers federal protection against workers from discrimination based on the following:
- National origin
Gender-based protection extends to pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation. States often extend similar protections to workers against discrimination in the workplace.
Montana’s Human Rights Act offers additional protections from discrimination based on:
- Marital status
- Political beliefs
- Age (for workers who are over 40)
Contact a Montana workers’ compensation attorney
Toxic work environments can have serious consequences on the physical and mental health of employees, as well as their productivity and overall job satisfaction. If you believe you’re working in a hostile environment, we encourage you to seek the resources you need to address the situation.
At Murphy Law Firm, our experienced workers’ compensation attorneys believe everyone is entitled to a safe work environment. If you’ve suffered an illness or injury on the job, you have a right to workers’ compensation benefits for medical expenses and lost wages. Our attorneys have more than 75 years of experience helping workers across Montana get maximum compensation through a workers’ comp claim.