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Walking Off a Job Due to a Hostile Work Environment

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The hostility of your work environment has you ready to leave your job .You can't take another day of the verbal abuse, the discrimination, the sabotage or any other behaviors around you. While it may be the right decision to leave your job, especially if your company is not taking steps to resolve the issues, you should understand how your career can be impacted by simply walking off the job without notice.

Hostile Workplace Definition

The term "hostile workplace" may bring to mind verbal abuse, intimidation or other forms of harassment used by one employee against another. While these bullying tactics are often symptoms of a hostile workplace, the legal definition requires discrimination as the motivation behind the actions. The U.S. Department of Labor defines hostile work environment harassment as "unwelcome and based on the victim's protected status." Protected status can be race, religion, gender, national origin, disability, or another category defined by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and often further defined by individual state laws. In addition to discrimination, the Department of Labor states that the abusive conduct must be "objectively severe and pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would find hostile or abusive."

Bullying in the Workplace

Unfortunately, most workplace harassment does not fall into the legal definition. A 2007 study by the Workplace Bullying Institute found that 80 percent of workplace harassment incidents were not discrimination-based. There are no laws today around this workplace bullying, which the WBI says impacts 35 percent of all U.S. workers, although healthy workplace bills are in consideration in 11 states, as of 2013. However, some employers handle other forms of harassment -- including verbal abuse, sabotage and offensive conduct -- through corporate policy, giving victims a company-supported path to resolve the problem.

Conflict Resolution

Before you let the poisonous work environment send you running, try to resolve the issue. This step could change the situation, allowing you to stay on. It also allows you to explain a resume gap if you do decide to leave and have no job waiting for you; you can show that you tried your best to resolve the problem. Try to resolve the issue with the perpetrator first and, if the problems continue, escalate to human resources and management. They may be able to diffuse the situation or change the environment through additional employee education, shift changes, job transfers or even termination.


Some situations are not easily changed or the company is unwilling to change them. If this is the case, your best option may be to leave. Once you make the decision to leave, provide your employer with a formal resignation letter and a notice period. As tempting as it may be to walk off the job, this can be damaging to your career if you want to use any of your co-workers for future references or if you run into them at an interview for a job later in your career. Your company may also have a notice period policy, and walking off the job could mean forfeit of vacation or other accrued earnings.


Ilene Tatroe has worked in the technology industry since 1996, with more than 10 years as a product manager for human capital management and workforce optimization applications. She has an MBA in marketing from Bentley University, as well as a Masters in journalism from New York University.

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