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A hostile work environment exists when an employee experiences workplace harassment and fears going to work because of the offensive, intimidating, or oppressive atmosphere generated by the harasser.
A hostile work environment may also be created when management acts in a manner designed to make an employee quit in retaliation for some action. For example, if an employee reported safety violations at work, was injured, attempted to join a union, or reported regulatory violations by management, then their response might be to harass and pressure the employee to quit. Employers have tried to force employees to quit by imposing unwarranted discipline, reducing hours, cutting wages, or transferring the complaining employee to a distant work location. The employer and the employee often mistakenly believe that if the employee quits his or her job due to the hostile work environment, the employee cannot get unemployment benefits and cannot sue the employer.
In many states within the USA, this is true; but in others neither is true. 
The United States Supreme Court stated in Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services, that Title VII is "not a general civility code." Thus, federal law within the USA does not prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not extremely serious. Rather, the conduct must be so objectively offensive as to alter the conditions of the individual's employment. The conditions of employment are altered only if the harassment culminates in a tangible employment action or are sufficiently severe or pervasive.