“Hostile work environment” and “harassment” are probably two of the most common terms I hear in my everyday practice. Both terms are generally interchangeable under the law and mean the same thing. Workplace harassment takes different forms such as being subjected to yelling, bullying, intimidation, ridicule, belittlement, false accusations, and profanity. Because Texas is an at-will employment state, however, not every harassment is illegal. In fact, most forms of harassment are legal.
There are a few requirements for the harassment to be illegal. First, it must be discriminatory—meaning that it must be based on a protected characteristic, like race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), sexual orientation, national origin, age, disability, or genetic information. If the motive behind the harassment is something else that is not protected, like personal hatred or big egos, then the harassment, no matter how awful, is not illegal (with a very narrow exception discussed below).