hostile work environment

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In employment law, a hostile work environment when an employee is subjected to discrimination, harassment or retaliation on the basis of their membership or perceived membership in a protected group such as race, religion, gender, national origin, disability, age, or genetics. The harassment must be so severe or pervasive that it interferes with the employee's ability to perform their work, or changes the terms and conditions of their employment. One-time offhand comments or minor annoyances are not considered harassment. To make a valid claim, the employee must reasonably believe that tolerating the hostile environment is a condition of their continued employment. Both employees and witnesses to harassment can make a claim for a hostile work environment. Employers must have anti-harassment policies in place and take appropriate action if a complaint is made. Employees can file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the relevant state department if their employer fails to take action. As of now, there are no comprehensive federal laws prohibiting a hostile work environment; instead, a hostile work environment is addressed through many anti-discrimination laws, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA). For more information please visit the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission at

[Last updated in February of 2023 by the Wex Definitions Team]