Toxic Work Environments: Your Legal Options in South Carolina
In today’s fast-paced and demanding world, many individuals spend a significant portion of their lives in the workplace. While employers are expected to provide a safe and healthy environment for their employees, the unfortunate reality is that some workplaces can be toxic.
A toxic work environment is characterized by various harmful factors that negatively impact employees’ well-being, mental health and overall job satisfaction. Fortunately, if you’re currently working in a toxic or hostile environment, you do have options, including legal recourse in some situations.
Identifying a toxic workplace
Sometimes it can be a challenge to identify outward behaviors that make a workplace toxic. In fact, some of the more subtle dynamics can create the most discomfort. Nevertheless, there are certain behaviors that point to toxicity:
- Bullying or harassment. Instances of bullying, harassment or discrimination create a toxic work environment, making employees feel unsafe and undervalued. This often includes microaggressions, which are negative, subtle behaviors targeting people of a certain race, gender, sexual orientation or religion with the intention of making them feel uncomfortable and excluded.
- Poor communication. Lack of transparency, frequent miscommunication and a general breakdown in communication channels can create confusion and frustration among employees.
- Excessive micromanagement. Constant monitoring, excessive control and micromanagement can lead to feelings of disempowerment and decreased autonomy, causing stress and inhibiting creativity.
- High turnover rates. A toxic work environment often results in high employee turnover, as individuals seek better opportunities elsewhere to escape the negative atmosphere.
- Lack of trust and respect. When trust and respect are absent, employees may experience hostility, belittlement and a lack of support from colleagues or management.
- Unreasonable workloads and expectations. Constantly overwhelming employees with excessive workloads, unrealistic deadlines and unmanageable expectations can lead to stress, burnout and decreased job satisfaction.
- Lack of work-life balance. A toxic work environment may disregard the importance of work-life balance, leaving employees feeling overworked and struggling to maintain a healthy personal life.
- Negative or non-supportive leadership. Poor leadership, characterized by favoritism, lack of guidance and a failure to address employee concerns, can contribute to a toxic work environment.
Effects of continuing to work in a toxic environment
Workers stay in toxic environments for several reasons. Most people need time to secure another income source before they leave their current job. Some workers may remain in a toxic setting because they’re working toward a specific goal, such as a supervisory position, or because they’re waiting until there’s an opening in a particular department.
Nevertheless, continuing to work in a toxic job can have a negative impact on a worker’s physical and mental health, including:
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Difficulty concentrating
- Weakened immunity
- Digestive issues
- Problems with relationships in and out of work
Strategies for workers in toxic workplaces
Depending on the particular causes of your toxic work environment, there are a number of strategies that may be appropriate.
Work on an exit strategy
The most effective and immediate approach to eliminating the negative effects of a toxic work culture is often to leave the job. Even if leaving immediately is impossible, workers often feel better if they devise an exit strategy that includes a timeline. The timeline should factor in the time needed to search for a new job, submit applications and interview with other employers.
Talk to management
Some workers may feel comfortable communicating their concerns about the work environment to management. If management is receptive to the employee’s feedback and willing to take action, the work environment may improve. However, in some cases, management may be part of the problem.
Workers are more likely to be reluctant to speak up for themselves if managers play a role in the toxicity. Managers may threaten or subtly suggest they will retaliate against workers who speak against them. In these cases, workers may have legal recourse if they’re fired or disciplined as an act of retaliation.
Address the toxic person directly
If there is one person who is creating the toxic environment, having a one-on-one conversation about the toxic behavior may be possible. Documenting the conversation and all other interactions with the person can provide evidence and additional protection in case the conversation triggers more toxic behavior. It’s also a good idea to have a witness present who can verify the events that transpire and provide support during the exchange if needed.
When is a toxic workplace illegal?
Although there is no specific law against toxic workplaces in general, certain behaviors that take place in many toxic workplaces are illegal. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of:
- Sexual orientation
- National origin
States also generally have laws prohibiting workplace discrimination. South Carolina Human Affairs Laws prohibit the following:
- Unfair treatment or harassment in the workplace based on race, color, religion, gender, pregnancy, religion, disability, national origin, or age (if over 40)
- Denial of reasonable workplace accommodations for disability or religion
- Retaliation against workers who complain or assist with a discrimination lawsuit or investigation
Discrimination and retaliation cases that cannot be solved in the workplace may require the assistance of an employment attorney, who can help determine if the negative behavior violates federal or state law. In addition to representing workers in discrimination cases, attorneys can also advise workers regarding steps they should take if they’re working in a toxic environment.
Contact an experienced Columbia work injury attorney
A toxic work environment ultimately hurts workers, employers and businesses alike. Supportive work cultures, by contrast, tend to foster productivity, increase employee morale, and help employers attract and retain dedicated, talented workers.
At Smith, Born, Leventis, Taylor & Vega, we believe that every employee is entitled to a safe and inclusive work environment, and we encourage you to seek out all possible legal remedies if you believe you’re the victim of employee retaliation.
If you live in Columbia, South Carolina, or the surrounding area and have suffered a work-related injury or illness, reach out to our experienced workers’ compensation attorneys for help with your claim. We offer free, no-obligation consultations to give you the advice and information you need to get back on the road to recovery, so don’t put it off any longer. Contact our office today.