Although many workers have come to expect some degree of stress when they’re on the job, workplace hostility is never acceptable. Employees who work in a hostile environment are often unsure of whether their workplace can be classified as toxic because many of the behaviors that make a workplace toxic are subtle.
Microaggressions and gaslighting leave the victim feeling targeted and uncertain while allowing the perpetrators to disguise their malicious intent and avoid disciplinary action. Although toxic behavior may not always be easily detected by everyone in the office, working in a hostile environment can have a real impact on workers’ mental and physical health.
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Signs of a toxic work environment
Although there is no concrete description of what constitutes a toxic workplace, there are certain signs that suggest toxicity:
- Workers often feel fearful about voicing their work-related opinions.
- There may be instances of bullying or harassment in the workplace.
- Other employees or managers may engage in inappropriate relationships.
- Team leaders commonly encourage workers to overexert themselves and overlook their need to maintain a healthy work-life balance.
Legal protections against workplace discrimination
Workers who experience certain types of discrimination may be protected by federal or state law. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers are not permitted to discriminate against employees based on the following:
- Skin color
- National origin
- Gender or sex
Unlike many other states, Alabama does not have an anti-discrimination statute based on race, gender, national origin, religion or color. However, the state does have a law that prohibits employers from discriminating against workers based on age. Unfortunately, even though many anti-discrimination laws exist, proving an employer’s intent can often be challenging.
Deciding whether or not to leave a toxic job
Some employees may continue working in a toxic workplace despite their discomfort because the pay and benefits they receive are higher than what they could obtain elsewhere. Workers who choose to stay should personally evaluate their reasons for not seeking another job and weigh the benefits against the toll that a toxic work environment can have on their physical and mental health, as well as their relationships outside of work.
Many employees are unable to immediately leave a toxic work environment before securing another source of income. Workers who would like to leave but are unable to do so for financial reasons should create an exit plan and include a timeline. The timeline should allot time for working on resumes, applying for other jobs and going on interviews.
Being able to look forward to the goal of leaving your current job for a new one can make working in a toxic setting more manageable in the interim.
Additionally, employees who are working in hostile conditions should be sure to implement healthy self-care practices like eating well, exercising, getting plenty of rest and speaking with a counselor to help manage stress.
How to address a toxic work environment
Employees who want to stay at their workplace and try to address issues related to toxicity may have a few options.
Confront toxic coworkers
Employees who feel comfortable addressing toxic behavior may wish to have a conversation with a specific coworker who creates the toxic environment. If you’re uncomfortable addressing a toxic coworker one-on-one, it’s often a good idea to seek out the support of other like-minded coworkers or someone in leadership who can mediate the discussion.
Be aware that talking to a toxic coworker may not always result in a significant change in their behavior, and it might even prompt them to behave worse than before. Therefore, you should be sure to document each attempt you make at resolving an issue so you have evidence of your efforts and their response.
Request a manager’s intervention
If directly addressing the toxic coworker seems too personal, you could also consider reporting toxic behavior to a manager (as long as the manager isn’t part of the problem). If your manager cares about fostering a healthy work environment, they should be willing to intervene and discuss the issue with the toxic coworker on your behalf.
Ideally, toxic coworkers will receive disciplinary actions to prevent them from repeating their offenses. However, there are companies that knowingly foster a toxic work culture. In these cases, members of management or other toxic coworkers may retaliate against people who complain about the workplace dynamic.
Unfortunately, organizations that have a culture of workplace toxicity are less likely to implement corrective actions to make the job more comfortable for those who are affected.
Get advice from an attorney
If attempts to rectify the situation fail, workers who believe they’re the target of workplace discrimination or other forms of inappropriate behavior should consider contacting an employment attorney who can help determine whether the treatment they’re experiencing violates federal or state law.
If it’s unclear whether the worker has a valid legal claim, the attorney can advise the worker regarding how to gather evidence of the behavior and strategies that may help them navigate the situation.
Contact an Alabama workers’ compensation attorney
At Nomberg Law Firm, we believe workers are entitled to feel safe at work, and we’re committed to protecting workers’ rights. We understand the challenges you may be encountering if you’re currently working in a toxic environment, and we urge you to seek out the necessary assistance and resources to tackle these issues.
If you live in Alabama and have suffered a work injury or illness, contact our experienced workers’ compensation attorneys to ensure your rights are protected. We can help you file a claim and negotiate with your employer and their insurance company to get you maximum compensation after a work injury or illness.