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Have You Been Threatened in the Workplace? Here’s What to Do

hostile work environment lawHostile Work Environment

The workplace can be a tumultuous place where we must deal with demanding bosses, moody co-workers, and difficult customers or clients. The price employees pay for financial security is enough to give anyone a headache, but what happens when a not-so-pleasant situation turns into one that is downright hostile?

What does it mean to feel threatened in the workplace and what if those threats are coming from higher up or in response to you filing a grievance over something that should have never occurred?

What should you do if you are threatened in the workplace?

Petty Annoyances versus Harassment

First, it’s important to determine the type of threat you’re dealing with. Some things might seem threatening, but they are just foolish and mean you no harm.

Of course, this doesn’t mean they are appropriate. There are plenty of instances in which a co-worker or supervisor is out of line in the workplace, but hasn’t actually threatened you.

If you are insulted, harassed, or stereotyped in the workplace, you might feel threatened, but chances are you aren’t facing a physical threat. Comments can cross a line and/or violate the law, but they might not actually be threats.

This is why it’s important to distinguish between petty slights, illegal offensive comments, and threats.

Speak Up If Someone Says Something Offensive

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, petty slights are annoying, but they don’t go so far as to create a work environment that is intimidating or hostile. They are usually isolated incidents and the best way to deal with them is to point out to the person committing the offense that the comment is offensive and that you don’t want to hear it again. Often, setting boundaries is enough to resolve the problem.

Of course, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes petty slights become repeat offenses and your effort to put an end to the problem doesn’t work. If the behavior continues or your request to stop the behavior is met with hostility, the problem has escalated and you’ll need to report it.

The earlier a problem is reported the better, in most cases. Once reported, it’s your employer’s responsibility to deal with the problem and failure to do so makes could make the employer liable for any consequences that occur.

In a nutshell, if a co-worker or supervisor says something offensive, tell them you’re offended and ask that they not say anything like it again. If they continue to insult or harass you, or your request to stop is met with hostility, report the problem. If there is still no remedy, it may be within your right to take legal action.

Threats of Physical Violence

In rare instances, you’ll be dealing with a serious situation right from the start. Instead of a petty or annoying comment, maybe someone stated they wanted to injure you or they would take physical action against your property or your loved ones.

If this is the case, you’ll want to report the circumstances immediately. If your instincts tell you it’s a dangerous situation, trust your gut and don’t try to handle things on your own.

It’s also advisable to contact law enforcement if you feel you are facing an immediate threat of physical violence.

It can be difficult sometimes to tell just how serious a threat of physical violence is, so you’re better off erring on the side of caution. If you believe your physical safety or the safety of anyone else is at risk, you are under no obligation to take a “wait and see” approach. Consider the threat serious and take action.

Threatened for Reporting Something Illegal?

One of the most common reasons employees face a threat in the workplace is because of whistleblowing.

A whistleblower is someone who reports unethical or illegal activity to the authorities. In many instances, wWhistleblowers are protected by law and if your employer threatens you for being a whistleblower there will could be additional repercussions.

For more information on the penalties related to retaliation on whistleblowers, check out this information from the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

These protections are potentially available even if the accusations turn out to be unfounded, but are reported in good faith. This means that even if an investigation into what you’ve accused your employer of doing turns up no evidence to prove there was anything unethical or illegal occurring, you might still receive whistleblower protection, as long as you truly believed you were doing the right thing.

The best thing you can do if you are threatened in conjunction with whistleblowing is to contact an attorney who has experience with these types of cases.

If you’d like to know more about how to effectively deal with workplace threats or you have questions about your rights as an employee, contact Borrelli & Associates, P.L.L.C. for more information.

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