Hostile Work Environment & UI Benefits

Updated : April 8th, 2022

If you landed here, you might be someone who is considering about quitting your job because the environment at work no longer feels secure or peaceful or you could be someone who already quit the job voluntarily because you could not take it anymore. Since UI benefits are usually offered to people who lose their jobs due to no fault of their own, it is only natural that you might be wondering if you are eligible or not. Here’s some happy news, unemployment benefits, in most cases, are offered to people who quit because of hostile work atmosphere!

Hostile work environment
Looks Familiar? Unpleasant Workplace

What Is a Hostile Work Environment?

The phrase, “hostile work environment,” is more than a simple descriptor. It is a legal definition of a workplace environment involving issues with a protected class. Legal action can be taken and the employer can be held accountable.

A hostile work environment must target or specifically impact a protected class of individuals. In addition, a hostile environment – also known as a toxic work environment or toxic workplace – is one in which the pervading culture is one that a reasonable person would find so abusive or intimidating that it impacts one’s ability to effectively carry out day-to-day work tasks. In other words, either the direct approval and conduct of supervisors or the tolerated toxic behavior of team members creates an environment that is detrimental to someone reasonably being able to work.

If you think you might be working within a hostile environment, it’s important to understand the details of the legal definition. Being teased or excluded by one’s co-workers certainly is unpleasant, but that conduct alone may not be persistent, severe, or pervasive enough to be legally actionable. As a general rule, personality conflicts, slights, annoyances, rudeness, and isolated incidents are not sufficient to constitute a hostile work environment.

To meet the legal requirements for a hostile work environment, a workplace must regularly carry out and accept practices that are discriminatory against gender, race, religion, pregnancy, age, sexual orientation, disability, nation of origin, or genetic information – all categories that are protected by the Equal Opportunity Commission.

In addition, this type of toxic environment must be pervasive and long-lasting – and the employer must either not have investigated at all and been unaware of the situation, or the employer must have been aware of the hostile work environment and done nothing to remedy the situation. It’s important to remember that even discriminatory conduct that is isolated or occurs sporadically may not constitute a hostile work environment.

The victim must be able to show that their ability to effectively complete their work has been impeded by this hostile culture – and that enduring the hostile culture is a condition of continued employment. Typically, toxic work cultures are characterized by a general feeling of fear and apprehension. Many times, workers want to quit a hostile workplace, but they’re afraid of retaliation or being accused of falsely claiming unemployment benefits if they voluntarily quit the situation.

Unemployment Insurance Eligibility

Your eligibility will depend upon the nature and extent of hostility of your work environment. In general, following cases are said to accepted as circumstances for constructively discharging you.

  • Criminal activity that you tried to bring to the attention of your employer
  • Health or safety issues that you tried to bring to the notice of your employer
  • Hostile environment due to illegal harassment or discrimination, such as due to your race, religion, age (40+) or a disability
  • Hostility in the form of retaliation for bringing criminal behavior, health/ safety issues or discrimination to the attention of your employer or relevant government organizations

That said, there are some other things that we need to understand. An unpleasant place of work or a difficult boss who treats you and your colleagues badly or some similar issue may not be considered as hostile environment. What we have to understand is that there is no legal rule which says that the employer must keep the employee happy. So the employer has no obligation to ensure that employees get along. Likewise, the employee can neither have the legal expectation nor right of a pleasant workplace.

Minor disagreements with superiors or co-workers, differences in opinion hardly count as hostile work environment. We are not say that you should not leave the job, you may if the atmosphere is difficult for you, but, you may not receive any benefits in a situation like this. Approach an unemployment attorney to know for sure whether you are eligible or not.

Determining the UI Eligibility

Once you file for UI benefits, the unemployment department will conduct a probe into the circumstances that lead to your job separation. The officials then compare your statement regarding the work environment and what they found out during the probe to determine the genuineness of the case.

What can I do to prove my side and fight hostile environment at work?

Proving that your work atmosphere was indeed hostile is not a very easy task. Especially if you are the only one who was picked on. But there are certain things that you can do to aid your claim.

1. Document everything: Keep a journal, carry an audio recorder, create backups of online content or hate mails. In short, whatever you can document and save, do it. While documenting, make sure that you record the date and time as well.

2. Talk to someone: If there is anyone you can trust at work, tell them about the problem. It could be your boss, your co-worker, someone at human resources or even the janitor. Tell someone about it. During the probe by the UI dept., if they learn that nobody knows about the fact that you were harassed, it may render you ineligible for UI benefits.

3. Keep track of your complaints: Use e-mails or any other form of recordable method while submitting your complaints. This can later prove to be useful.

4. Don’t quit your job right away: Unless you are in imminent danger, don’t quit immediately. If you really need UI benefits, try to avoid quitting immediately after the hostility begins. Stay back until you have sufficient evidence to prove to the UI authorities.

7 Examples of a Hostile Work Environment

  1. Sexual comments and Innuendo
  2. Bullying
  3. Inappropriate Touching
  4. Gossip
  5. Racism
  6. Discrimination Against Protected Classes
  7. Intimidation or Ridicule

While every hostile work environment is unique, these types of work cultures do share some common characteristics and typical types of infractions. We’ve outlined some of the most common here.

1. Sexual Comments and Innuendo

Within a hostile workplace, where inappropriate conduct is accepted and perhaps even encouraged, it is not uncommon to hear co-workers openly discussing sex acts or routinely using sexually suggestive language. In addition, a toxic work culture typically allows for, and perhaps even celebrates, making unwanted sexual advances, or observations or comments about team members’ physical characteristics, along with the sharing of sexually explicit images or other pornographic material.

Many times this offensive conduct constitutes sexual harassment. When these behaviors are tolerated by the top executives of a company, this workplace may be considered toxic or hostile according to state or federal law.

2. Bullying

Bullying is closely related to workplace harassment. Bullying can take the form of colleagues yelling at teammates or subordinates – or supervisors using intimidation to force team members to take on extra assignments.

Bullying is most toxic when it is combined with power, so situations in which supervisors bully their teams can be crippling to team performance. Bullying often is directed toward those in protected classes – those traditionally seen as more vulnerable, like those who are disabled, women, or people of color. This type of conduct is intended to intimidate, and it represents a tremendous danger to individuals’ mental health.

Bullying behavior from a supervisor may look like invalid criticism or blame without facts to back it up – or it also may take the form of being excluded from the rest of the team or being closely monitored in a way that differs from the rest of the team. At its heart, workplace bullying is often a blatant abuse of power.

3. Inappropriate Touching

Any touch that is unsolicited and unwelcome is inappropriate, whether a hand on the shoulder, a hug or other, or any other type of unwanted touch. Any contact with a co-worker that makes someone feel uncomfortable or that is unwelcome is inappropriate. The touch doesn’t have to come from a supervisor or an employee in a position of power.

Inappropriate touching does not necessarily have to be sexual in nature to be considered unwelcome conduct – the chief determining factor is whether the touch made someone feel uncomfortable and was unwanted. While some workers may be comfortable giving hugs or massages, or even sitting extremely close while working on a project, this level of intimacy is not comfortable for everyone. Employment law recognizes that no one should be subject within the workplace to a level of uncomfortable physical contact.

4. Gossip

A toxic workplace often is marked by team members being allowed – or even encouraged – to gossip about, slander, or otherwise sabotage the success of their peers. In this type of hostile environment, supervisors entertain this type of discussion without setting healthy boundaries or involving all parties in a discussion of workplace disputes. This type of talk often veers into the personal lives of team members, which may include open gossip about characteristics that classify a co-worker in a protected class.

5. Racism

Racist conduct in a hostile work environment can look like many different things. It may entail a work culture that allows for the sharing of offensive jokes and/or stories about people whose race constitutes a protected class – or the use of racial insults and slurs, either openly or covertly. At its very worst, racism in the workplace can take the form of individuals from underrepresented races not being considered in hiring decisions and/or not being considered for promotions, raises, executive-level positions, etc.

6. Discrimination Against Protected Classes

If someone is singled out and denied the same opportunities as others based on a protected characteristic like disability, race, gender, sexual orientation, and others, this constitutes employment discrimination. Team members who are part of any protected class legally must be provided the same opportunities for hiring, promotion, and special assignments as their co-workers who are not part of a protected class.

Other forms of discrimination may include moving a teammate’s desk to an isolating location, denying a team member the tools or resources they need to complete their work, or giving someone the worst possible assignments. When these actions are taken in response to a team member raising concerns about workplace conduct, they can constitute retaliation as well.

7. Intimidation or Ridicule

It can be all too common for supervisors and coworkers to try to intimidate a colleague into quitting – especially if that colleague has filed a formal complaint alleging that the work environment is toxic. This is known also as retaliation, and it is illegal and against most organizations’ HR policies.

Some supervisors also operate with a near-constant threat of punishment, which can keep team members from voicing their concerns. One of the chief psychological effects of a hostile workplace is the fear of losing employment if someone gives voice to what’s happening. In many cases, this fear is entirely justified. In some cases, employees even wonder if the employer will deny their unemployment eligibility if they choose to quit their toxic workplace.

In addition to intimidation, ridicule is a tool often employed in a toxic workplace to pressure individuals into leaving the organization. While workplace jokes and pranks can be healthy at the right level and in moderation, pranks that publicly embarrass or frustrate team members, or any other form of pervasive public ridicule, can constitute a hostile environment.

Should I Hire an Employment Lawyer?

If you are the victim of a hostile environment, you may eventually need to work with a qualified employment lawyer to find a suitable legal remedy. However, the first step is to try to address the situation with company leadership. If this isn’t an option that’s available to you, or you’ve already tried and not landed on a suitable solution, it may make sense to reach out to an employment lawyer for help. Try to connect with a lawyer who specializes in employment law, discrimination law, and perhaps even wrongful termination if that applies.

In many cases, an employment lawyer can help mediate a resolution between you and your employer without actually going to court. In others, especially if your employer is unwilling to try to reach an agreement, an employment lawyer can help determine whether moving forward with legal action against your employer is likely to be worth it.

In particular, an employment lawyer can review the details of your complaint and provide legal advice about whether the situation with your employer constitutes a hostile or toxic work environment according to state or federal law. It’s important to remember that in legal cases alleging hostile work environments, the burden of proof falls on the victim. This means that, as the employee accusing an organization of having a toxic culture, it’s up to you to provide enough proof to establish that this culture actually exists.

So, even before you engage with an employment attorney, you should keep careful notes and collect evidence of toxic workplace behavior. Your attorney also can advise you on legal measures in place designed for whistleblower protection.

If your attorney advises you to move forward, the first step outside of your work organization is to file an administrative complaint at either the state or federal level. The investigating agency then will issue a determination as to whether there is sufficient evidence of a toxic workplace. At that point, the agency also can assist with developing the appropriate charge. And even if the investigating agency fails to recommend moving forward, you can choose to file your own lawsuit.

If you are the victim of toxic workplace conduct, try to document every instance of harassment. If someone else may have observed the harassing behavior, ask them to serve as a witness if necessary. Keep copies of performance reviews or any other type of work assessment that shows how the hostile environment has affected your quality of work. If you have consulted with a mental health professional about your toxic work environment, documentation and letters of assessment from your mental health counselor may prove helpful for your case.

Please also remember that even in cases where a situation doesn’t meet the legal criteria for a hostile workplace, the situation may reflect harassing behavior that is against your organization’s policies. A trusted workplace attorney can help you determine what, if any, legal action may be appropriate in your specific case.

If you don’t think you’re ready to engage with an attorney, you may also take your concerns straight to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the equivalent organization in your state. 

The final word

The most important thing is to ensure your safety, especially if the hostility is physical in nature. Keep your friends and family informed, have someone ready to raise an alarm if needed. If you cannot continue anymore, take some time off from work and collect your thoughts.

We understand that a hostile work environment is one of the most difficult situations a person can face. Try to remain calm and composed. Apply for another job, spend quality time with your friends and family and follow the steps we discussed here. We sincerely hope that everything will get better for you and we shall always be here to help you. Use our discussion forums to clear your doubts and concerns.

If you found this useful, share it with others who might be facing difficulties at work too. Together, let’s help the victims of workplace bullying and harassment. Good Luck!!

If you have questions, please post it on our discussion forum.

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  1. I was fired through no fault of my own in the state of NJ. I was hired to help build an apparel startup. Hired for coming from a corporate background, I would make my professional suggestions on how to improve and develop product as that type of information was always welcomed but unfortunately not utilized. During my time, I’ve repeatedly tried to help the company to avoid costly mistakes in the future when it came to producing apparel, yet my boss preferred to always “wing it” change direction and never follow any type of calendared process. Fast forward and to no surprise to me there is an issue with production and I’m informed with vague information and so as a professional, I remind the owners (again) of the proper protocol that I’ve been suggesting and believing that they finally understood this now. But the understanding was an awakening that was too late (as it seems). Therefore a week later, I was fired as a cut in finances, With no severance, I ask for a confirmation on days worked in order to claim for unemployment due to the financial reduction but then am emailed that due to my decision making that the company lost thousands of dollars and that I didn’t perform my job. I continued to apply for my claim and was denied with allegations that in addition to losing thousands of dollars that I now stole candy (of all things) from the company under footage which is false, and that I watched movies on my phone which was also a false claim. The adjudication office has reached out to me to give me 2 days to reply against the ridiculous allegations and I have replied to all her points of accusations. I had also added more information which I regret now because I was a bit emotional because of the low blows that came my way. Nevertheless, the email had been sent and I am now waiting to see the next steps.
    My question is this. In the state of NJ, what are the next steps for determination?
    Will my former employer read my comments which will only add fuel to the fire (which is true on the additional emotional writing) and then create more lies?
    Have employers gotten away with denying claims by creating false claims?
    This is not what I had expected nor planned to rebuttal in an adjudication.
    I only wanted unemployment pay while I continue to look for work.

  2. I went on medical leave in 2016. I had 2 years of approved leave with pay and benefits. Over the past 2 years, I continued on medical. In May of 2018 my employer tried to terminate for refusing to follow the company doctor’s recommendation to return to work with restrictions in a non hazardous area. I was never informed of where to report or when to report for work. I didn’t even know of the attempted termination until I didn’t receive my bi-weekly payment. I filed a greviance to get my job, pay, and benefits back and was awarded a temporary re-instatement until I had a third party doctor exam. During all of this, I reached my 2 year limit on pay and benefits. Once the 3rd party medical exam was done, the doctor sided with me that there were health reasons for not restoring me to my previous position. But he also agreed with my employer’s company doctor offer of returning to work with restrictions in a non hazardous area. My employer informed me at that time they had no jobs available for me. Since I no longer receive pay or benefits I filed for unemployment. The state said that my employer objected to my request for umeployment on the grounds that I’m weeking fulltime for them and now it has been 6 weeks pending adjudication. I receive no pay no benefits and was told I don’t have a job from my employer. How can they hold up my unemployment pay?

    1. Gil,

      Thank you for writing to us. The outcome of the adjudication depends on the paperwork/documents you submit supporting your stance. Please make sure to prepare well and argue confidently in your favor.

  3. I live in the state of Nevada and had filed for unemployment a few months back in June and was denied because of not earning enough funds in that quarter which show that I’m trying to open a claim on a previous claim considered double dipping. I was told that if I worked and made $1,200 then that would be enough to fulfill and be approved for unemployment claim for the new quarter. I did work a new job started the job as a project assistant for a plumbing company to which the hiring manager knew I had never worked in plumbing but had over 20 years in construction. All in all I worked really hard to understand the plumbing industry but I could never satisfy my supervisors expectations and the last week of me working she basically took ball work from me and kept saying she will handle it even though I would ask every hour or less if there is something that I could do, she kept denying me any work because she was frustrated that I couldn’t do the job is good as she did even though she’s been there for 30 years. I was receiving unemployment funds for the past 3 weeks and suddenly I have to wait till November 2nd for an adjudication meeting and my funds have been placed on hold until then. Can my claim be denied because I could not do the job she expected even though she hired me knowing my previous experience? What should I expect now?

    1. Brooke,

      There is a thin line. It can go against your since expectations were not met or it can also be in your favor for unreasonable demands from your supervisor. If you think you have a strong case, make sure to argue well and present all supporting paperwork.

  4. The state of Oregon UI told my spouse every claim that isn’t due to lack of work now goes through adjudication! Is that true or are they just saying that because she ‘resigned en leiu of termination’ in her trial period? She worked for the state, and didn’t want to be unable to find employment in another department.

    1. Ambrose,

      I don’t know if this is true. How can you confirm? By calling the office again and asking for a different representative to speak to.

    2. Yes, this is true, Oregon will adjudicate any “employment separation” that isn’t due to a lack of work. FYI they’ll also treat a resignation in lieu of termination as her being fired because if your wife’s employer told her “quit or you’ll be fired”, she didn’t really have much of a choice and she was going to lose her job either way.

  5. I was terminated while on Workers Comp. The employer didn’t call me, I was notified a month after the fact by the insurance carrier for the employer! And get this,,,When I opened my UI case to start benefit payments, I notated in the questionnaire that I have a lifting restriction imposed by the Doctor but that I can still physically work and I’m currently available to work….and I was denied UI benefits.
    I’m appealing.

    1. Will,

      I think you should be eligible to collect UI benefits under such circumstances. Please make sure to keep supporting documents handy to support your stance during the Appeal.

  6. I’m currently appealing an availability issue in Massachusetts. I was accepted to a local community college never enrolled and because at the time when I applied I stated I was accepted they denied me. I was laid off due to lack of work it was a temporary position on August 3, 2018. My previous employer I was with 2+years, however I did quit that job which I’m sure doesn’t help my claim, however I’ve submitted everything from my most recent employer including wages which redetermined me eligible. Now I’m appealing my availability… I’ve contacted the college to get verification letter stating I’m not enrolled nor have I ever been but due to their protocols they fought me tooth and nail to get this verification. Stating there’s nothing to send if I’ve never been so there. Last week they finally sent a certified seal enrollment letter that shows I am inactive and never enrolled or registered within that institution. I think it was to stop me from constantly contacting them. Will this help remove the availability disqualification? Also are availability cases easier to resolve?

    1. Lily,

      To offer a straightforward answer to your question, if you lost the previous job due to involuntary reasons (no fault of yours), you should be eligible to collect.

      1. So I just got my Late Appeal decision after sending in all necessary information as to why I was filing late pertaining to being offered a temporary job. The decision states DETERMINED.

        Not exactly sure what that implies. I’m assuming the worst though. Since no adjudicator ever called me. Can you please clarify?

        1. Lily,

          I suggest you call the Claims Center to find out the status. It more or less means the “Determination” process is now complete.

      2. UPDATE: I called the claims center to clarify the adjudicator’s decision they stated that it means I found eligible for the Late Appeal regarding my availability. The representative also stated that its very strange to be appealing a one party decision ( thus meaning appealing just myself.) Will I still have to continue with this hearing since my enrollment verification proves with a certified seal inactivity and no enrollment has ever been made? Are availability appeals easier to win since its not a wage or reason for termination I am appealing?

        1. Lily,

          This seems like a complicated situation. I suggest you ring up the adjudicator and consult him/her on further steps.

  7. my adjutication was removed and my case still says that im eligble and active does that mean the ruled in my favor ?

    1. Jeannette,

      That is correct. The authorities might have ruled in your favor and ruled out the need for an adjudication. Please call the office for clarification.

  8. After working at various jobs over the course of 24 years and never being fired,I finally was recently. The reason was arguing with a manager because she was unprofessional and baited me into a argument and I signed the statement she wrote against me before I left and now I wonder will the unemployment official side in my favor over me signing the statement..

    1. Jason,

      If you’re able to prove your position preferably with supporting documents, you should be able to collect UI benefits.

  9. Can you be denied unemployment after being terminated for allegedly making a customers grocery bags too heavy. Customer made a complaint that I packed her bags too heavy. When I had only put 4-6 items in each bag. This occurred while I worked for Meijer.

    1. That sounds like an awful reason to terminate employment. Please consider applying for UI benefits until you find employment. You may want to speak to the Unemployment Office in your state once before applying. Please call them.

  10. I moved to NC for a Job the employer begged for me to work for him. The job is 1 hour away. I got sick one day driving there and went to work and told the girl I was working with that I was sick and may need to go home so I call the the staffing lady and the own and told them I’m sick and I’m going home they said OK. Next day get a text saying I’m off for the next 2 think they could not find anyone to work with me see my tech went on vacation. When my tech came back from vacation they told her she will be working alone she sent me the text I was shocked because now it’s two weeks with out work I’m a fulltime worked get a w2 at the end of the year. I work the own stating what is going on why you not having me work I said I will have to file unemployment no response. Umployment told them I walked off the job when the all said I called them when I was leaving stating I was sick and they sent Umployment the call off work text they sent me its been 6 weeks and no amswer on my unemployment case help if you can

    1. Lace,

      Unemployment Insurance benefits are extended to those who lose their job due to involuntary reasons. If you think this was the case, please consider filing until you find employment. Make sure to keep supporting documents handy in case of a dispute.

  11. I filed for unemployment in florida but then moved to Georgia, after I was unable to obtain a job in Florida. I was hired at amazon in Florida but have already moved to Georgia and receiving unemployment at the time. The unemployment is now adjudicating because it picked up that I was a new hire at Amazon but I Couldn’t work for Amazon seeing how I moved out of Florida before I was hired. It has now been eight weeks of claiming with a hold on my funds what will happen next?

    1. Ernest,

      If you still remain unemployed, you should be able to continue claiming UI benefits. Since you’ve moved to Georgia, you can consider transferring your claim over to the new state.

  12. I worked a 3 yr contract with an employment firm. That contract ended unexpectantly and I filed unemployment. The employer called me with 2 jobs. one of the jobs was at the company that I just left and the company had a 6-month wait and I was unsure if I could return to the company. I expressed this to the employer and they said that they would check to see if I could return to the employer. I was trying to avoid rejection/embarrassment for myself and the employer. I was submitted for 2 jobs.

    The employer filed a protest saying I had refused work. I spoke with the adjudicator. (Who called me a day earlier than our call) It turns out two jobs that of the two jobs they said I had refused. they had submitted me for one and the other was the job aforementioned. the employer never got back in touch with me and I eventually applied for the job.

    The adjudicator told me that I would receive two letters in the mail in 5 -7 business days and told me to keep certifying.

    Any idea where this is landing. The employer did not tell the truth and I sent documented information to our phone call. The adjudicator said that they had cancellations and that was why he was calling a day early.

    Any ramifications for the employer not telling the truth.

    1. It’s the time to make a strong case for yourself. Chase the adjudicator at regular intervals and submit the required documents in your support.

  13. I finally got the courage to do this as I now get Social Security but I doubt things have changed. Years ago when I was working I had a sales job and they did all sorts of sexist crap. They would not pay the spiffs to females. They called you names over the intercom. They would break things on products ordered and picked up by customers. People knew about it but would not come forth. When you saw something illegal going on that you were not supposed to see, you got fired. The employer lied about you to the DES and they even lied to future employers so that you never had respect once you worked at their place. The so called judges as your hearings admonished you for speaking out but there was nothing to be done unless others backed you up and they were afraid for their jobs. This still goes on. For the most part it is women judges doing the bidding of male employers. Some of these women should be asking themselves questions about the lives of others they were complicit in destroying. There never was any recourse for sexual harassment and discrimination and there still is not. Have any of these female judges ever thought to require further proofs from the employers. Has any judge ever compelled the employer to proof of sales or production exceeded by the women who have been fired? That would be the most telling. When other situations arise and the female employee has been with the company for more than five years, have any of these judges had the sense to ask if the person lasted with you that long and their last evaluation was superior enough to merit a raise, why do you all of a sudden doubt the employee? There is no common sense to these horrible women and they are there as judges because of their stupidity. The system is geared to protect only the rights of the employer so don’t be down on yourselves if you find yourself a victim because if the employer loses then you have a case! DES judges are paid to destroy people.

  14. Please contact me I’m going to be homeless loose vehicle they are holding my unemployment and I don’t know why I’ve been doing everything and more I’m a cancer patient and have to get to my therapy today I can’t go cause my trucks out of gas and no money

    1. Jerome,

      Hope you get out of this situation soon. Please let us know how we can help you. This is a private forum and our help can be limited. If you’re referring to Unemployment Insurance, please call the Claims Center for further inquiry.

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