How to File a Hostile Work Environment Complaint

by Jan Simon; Updated September 26, 2017

Harassment in the workplace is strictly taboo. If an individual at work acts in a hostile manner that makes you feel uncomfortable, it is your right to take action and get the matter resolved. You may be able to obtain a rapid and satisfactory resolution internally, so begin seeking redress within your own company before heading off to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to file a complaint.

Before Filing Your Claim

Make sure your situation applies by reviewing the nature of a hostile work environment as define by law in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. According to the EEOC, it must be a severe form of harassment, interfering with the ability of an employee to carry out given job duties. Accepting the offensive conduct must be a condition of employment, or severe and pervasive enough that it would be considered intimidating, hostile or abusive by a reasonable person.


  • Your primary responsibility is to let the offender know the conduct is unwanted and unwelcome. Before you proceed with the claim, make sure you have been very clear with the individual that the behavior must cease.

Beginning the Grievance Process

If the behavior continues beyond your warning, address the issue by scheduling a meeting with your immediate supervisor in a quiet and confidential setting. Check your employee handbook -- it may include a grievance form and give detailed information on how to proceed with your complaint. Bring any notes you have accumulated, documenting specific dates and offensive behavior displayed by the offender. Although it is not mandatory to have notes, mapping it out in writing often proves helpful during the discussion. If you are uncomfortable going to your manager, or if you are being harassed by that individual, schedule an appointment with a human resources representative.

Investigation Procedure

Your manager, or an HR staff member, will listen to your grievance, record the facts and begin an investigation. Federal law protects you from retaliation for filing a complaint. You cannot be fired, demoted or be reassigned to another job. Employers are bound to practice confidentiality as much as possible during the investigation process. However, you will need to prove your facts are correct, and likely confront the accuser.

Conclusion and Resolution

After interviewing the individuals involved and validating the facts, the employer determines the appropriate corrective action. In cases of severe misconduct, the offender may face termination. For lesser offenses, employee counseling and a documented warning might be the suitable course of action. If you're not satisfied with the response, or don't believe the process was handled properly, you then may consider escalating the case by referring the matter to the EEOC.

About the Author

Jan Simon is a career and life coach with more than 20 years of experience in corporate human resources. She holds a bachelor's degree from Central Michigan University. Simon enjoys writing career articles and is a columnist for the CV Weekly. She also publishes a weekly blog called Life on the Sunny Side.