Most workers have experienced workplace disharmony—personalities may clash, or employees may disapprove of a manager’s leadership style. In more extreme cases, the dynamics within a workplace can even be toxic.
Because workers often expect to witness or personally experience conflict in the workplace, many Atlanta employees are unaware of what constitutes a toxic workplace.
What is a toxic workplace?
There are several negative behaviors that can make a workplace toxic. Bullying, yelling, and manipulation are among the most conspicuous characteristics of a toxic environment.
Workers generally feel psychologically unsafe in these settings. They may find themselves in fear of being targeted or generally experiencing humiliation or punishment for speaking up for themselves or for others.
Though there are exceptions, many companies that subject employees to a toxic environment have lower productivity and high turnover rates. These employers are also more likely to allow discrimination and other illegal practices to take place. Their employees have higher stress levels and commonly witness infighting. Employees who work in toxic environments often dread going to work.
Some states provide workers with extensive legal protection against wrongful termination. Unfortunately, employment in Georgia is “at will.” This means employers may terminate their employees for nearly any reason without legal repercussions.
A toxic workplace example
Imagine an employee named Jane who works at a small accounting firm. Over the course of several months, Jane’s boss, Bob, has consistently belittled and berated her in front of her colleagues.
Bob also frequently makes inappropriate and offensive comments about Jane’s appearance and personal life.
Jane has tried to address the issue with Bob directly, but he refuses to listen or change his behavior. Jane has also reported the issue to HR, but the company has not taken any action to address the problem. As a result, Jane has become stressed and anxious, and her work performance has suffered.
In this situation, Jane is experiencing a toxic work environment as a result of Bob’s bullying and harassing behavior. This treatment could potentially violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of sex.
Jane may have grounds to file a lawsuit against her employer for failing to address the toxic work environment and for allowing the harassment to continue. An attorney could help Jane navigate the legal process and seek compensation for the emotional and physical harm she has suffered.
What workers can do
Workers who are in a toxic work environment can confront the situation in multiple ways.
Leave the job
Quitting the job immediately may be a feasible way of avoiding workplace toxicity altogether. Nevertheless, most workers need time to find another income source before leaving their current job.
If you are unable to quit immediately, you may feel more empowered by privately working out your exit strategy, interviewing for other jobs and quitting on your own timeline.
Seek help from those in leadership positions
Depending on your job, it may be helpful to involve a manager, director or company owner by bringing the toxic work environment to their attention so they can help you seek a resolution. If your employer doesn’t foster or condone abuse in the workplace, this approach may yield immediate positive results.
Unfortunately, many managers, directors and company owners routinely turn a blind eye or may even play a role in facilitating workplace toxicity. Workers who speak against the toxic environment may risk termination; however, there may be legal protections available.
Everyone who experiences toxic behavior in the workplace should always document their experiences and keep written records of conversations they have with abusive coworkers and with employees who are in leadership roles.
Form a group
Confronting management and other toxic coworkers is often more successful when done in cooperation with others. If a company leader is not receptive to your concerns, consider reaching out to other coworkers so you can confront the cause of the toxic environment together.
Not only are employers less likely to terminate multiple people who voice the same concern, but in the event of a negative response, multiple people will have more solid evidence of the negative treatment.
Directly address the person responsible
Some workers opt to speak one-on-one with the individual who engages in the toxic behavior. If the other person is not in a leadership position, this approach is less likely to result in termination.
However, if the other party has a close relationship with someone who is in a leadership position, you may still face risks by confronting the other person, so be sure to document the one-on-one conversation and all other interactions you have with this person.
Stay on the job and say nothing
Unfortunately, many workers feel they have no choice but to remain employed in the toxic situation for financial and other reasons. Be aware that working in a toxic environment can come with certain health risks, including depression, anxiety and high blood pressure.
Because of this, all workers who stay in a toxic work environment, including those who are working on their exit plan, should look for ways to reduce the overall stress in their daily lives. It’s especially important to maintain a healthy work-life balance when employed by a company that has a toxic work culture.
Legal protections for workers in toxic environments
Fortunately, employees who are subjected to a toxic workplace may have legal recourse. Members who are of a protected class can file a legal action under Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act. Title VII makes it illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of:
- National origin
Many states also offer protection against discrimination. In Georgia, the Fair Employment Act of 1978 prohibits state agencies from discriminating based on the following:
- National origin
Keep in mind that because there is no codified legal definition of a toxic work enforcement, taking legal action is generally a complex process.
Contact a Georgia workers’ compensation attorney
At Gerber & Holder Workers’ Compensation Attorneys, we understand the physical and emotional toll that working in a toxic environment or experiencing a work injury can take on an individual.
Everyone deserves to have a safe and healthy workplace. It’s devastating to see hardworking individuals suffer not only from physical injuries but also from emotional and psychological damage caused by a toxic work culture.
We empathize with the struggles you may be facing and encourage you to seek the help and resources you need to address these issues.
For any work injury help, contact the experienced attorneys at Gerber & Holder Workers’ Compensation Attorneys. We have more than 75 years of combined experience helping injured workers get the compensation they deserve.