Every workplace has unwritten rules that everyone seems to know or get used to. Maybe it's the fact that everyone leaves a little early on Fridays when the boss is gone, or that certain people work better together than others. You could learn quite quickly that there is one group of people who tend to take over meetings or that it is better to go to one supervisor with questions than another.
These can all be factors that make up the culture in a particular workplace. However, while these examples may be relatively harmless, other factors actually violate an employee's rights. For instance, if you work somewhere where the boss is known for making passes at new employees or where females are regularly harassed, you are not just working at a place with a certain culture; you could be working in a hostile work environment.
A hostile work environment is one that makes a reasonable employee feel unsafe, threatened or intimidated and jeopardizes that person's ability to do his or her job.
Unfortunately, many employees who raise concerns about this type of environment are ultimately told that it is just the "culture" of the workplace. Some are even told that maybe they should just leave if they can't handle that type of behavior. Under these circumstances, employees often decide to just keep quiet, try to adjust to the harassment and maybe just start looking for a new job.
However, the fact is that employees are protected from this type of harassment, and it is illegal. Explaining a supervisor's inappropriate touching or the widespread use of offensive language as "part of the culture" doesn't make it in any less unlawful.
If you have been told that an apparent hostile work environment is "just the way it is" or if you are concerned that your job could be in jeopardy if you file a complaint, it can be critical that you understand your rights as an employee.
Instead of relying on assurances from the very people who may be contributing to a hostile workplace, you can discuss your situation with an attorney can help you accurately assess your options and the legal protections you have in place.