Yes, it happens. I have experienced a case where a high level executive actually hit an employee during a meeting. I have experienced a case where a manager took an employee by the neck, slammed him against a wall, and threatened his life…and these were in an office setting. However, hostility is not always this violent. Hostility in the work place comes in many forms. Words, silence, stares, demotion, teasing, decrease in hours, decrease in pay, comments about your weight or physical attributes, eye rolling, insults, isolation, ignoring emails, threats, gossiping, yelling, sarcasm, passive aggressive behavior, and yes, assault and battery. Alone an eye roll may not be a big deal, but put in context, with other persistent hostile behavior, it may constitute a hostile work environment.
It seems like common sense. You know when someone is being mean to you or acting hostile. But what you may not know, is that it’s not unlawful to be a jerk. In fact, it’s not unlawful to be a great big jerk. What is unlawful however, is to be such a big jerk that it creates a hostile work environment. Here’s the catch. This hostile work environment has to have two things. First, it has to be “because of” a “protected category.” (That’s legal speak for the protected categories under Title VII, ADA and ADEA –prohibiting discrimination based on age (40 years old and older), race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, national origin or disability)). And second, the hostile work environment has to be so severe or pervasive that it impacts your ability to do your work. Admittedly this is a high threshold to meet, but that does not mean that specific facts and circumstances will not satisfy its requirements. And because the hostility has to be “because of” a protected category, you typically have a discrimination claim as well.
So, if your boss is hostile to you, ask yourself why. Is he being hostile to me because I am older than, and not as quick on the computer as, a younger employee? Is he hostile to me because I am homosexual? Is he hostile to me because I’m female and he only treats male employees kindly? If your answer to “why” is because he is just a great big jerk, then you may not have a claim (and you may want to consider finding different employment). But time and time again, even a great big jerk has a reason for his hostile treatment towards you. Uncovering that reason typically reveals discrimination.
So what would you do if your boss hit you? Well…perhaps it’s time to hit back.
For more information, please contact Kirsten Schneider at 203-255-4150 or firstname.lastname@example.org
 I use the pronoun “he” generally. Yes, women can be jerks too. It’s just my grammatical preference.