Examples of a hostile work environment include situations where women or people of color are singled out for ridicule, harassment, violence or work sabotage based on their status in protected classes. To qualify as a hostile work environment under federal law, the behavior must be a sustained, pervasive pattern.
Sending sexually explicit messages, commenting on physical attributes and engaging in unnecessary touching may constitute a hostile work environment for a female employee. Telling racially motivated jokes, displaying racist pictures or using slurs are some types of harassment that may indicate a hostile work environment for people of color. These behaviors are more likely to constitute a hostile work environment if the victim must accept the harassment to keep her job.
Isolated incidents, minor annoyances and impolite behavior do not indicate discrimination. Instead, a hostile work environment must involve a clear pattern of harassment that would be offensive to a reasonable person, according to federal labor laws.