Have you been feeling like maybe it’s time to ditch your toxic employer and take back control of your career?
As a workplace civil rights attorney, I’ve had the privilege of working with scores of employees from a variety of backgrounds and workplaces. Sometimes these people have become clients and sometimes they have not.
Whether I meet with someone for a one-time consultation or work with a client for years, there are common threads found across all dysfunctional work environments.
This is true regardless of whether you work in healthcare, education, social work, law enforcement, hospitality, the legal profession, or a different area entirely.
To be clear, there is a difference between a hostile work environment as defined under the law and a generally “toxic workplace.”
In this article for Fairygodboss, I discussed how to spot the signs you work in an unlawful hostile work environment. I explained what does and does not legally constitute a hostile work environment.
I’ve also written about how to spot unlawful discrimination at work.
When a workplace is permeated by unlawful discrimination and harassment, it is, by extension, a toxic workplace, whether or not it legally constitutes a hostile work environment.
However, not every toxic workplace will feature conduct that breaks the law.
Nevertheless, working in a toxic environment can still be stressful, unpleasant, and bad for your well-being.
Below are seven signs that you may be working in such a workplace, and that it may be time to ditch your toxic employer once and for all.
1. They don’t respect you.
We all deserve respect in the workplace. If your employer doesn’t respect you, your time, or your contributions, or permits an environment where others are allowed to engage in a pattern of disrespect, it may be time to move on.
Determining whether you are receiving the respect you deserve is a subjective endeavor, but here are some obvious signs your employer does not value you:
- Your employer regularly allows a select few to steal credit for the work of others.
- Your employer uses harmful, bias-riddled language, indicating they hold certain workers in higher esteem than others.
- Your employer treats you as though they don’t trust you.
- Your employer engages with you in a volatile, unprofessional manner.
- Your employer harps on alleged weaknesses without ever praising strengths.
No one expects a workday to be a day at the fair, but if your employer appears hell-bent on keeping you at a certain “level,” they probably are.
2. They break wage and hour laws.
Another sign it’s time to go: your employer routinely breaks wage and hour laws.
This might not seem like a big deal, and sometimes you may not even realize you’re being shortchanged, but you should never tolerate working for an employer that does not fairly pay its workers.
Since wage and hour laws vary by state and federal law and contain many legal nuances and complexities, I’m not going to delve into an extensive analysis on the issue.
However, these are some ways to tell that your employer is not paying you fairly:
- Your employer regularly asks you to complete work “off the books.”
- Your employer requires you, an hourly worker, to work beyond your scheduled hours but refuses to document these hours.
- Your employer unjustly withholds commissions if you work by commission.
- Your employer does not post required information about wage and hour regulations in the workplace.
There are heavy penalties that can be levied against employers found guilty of breaking wage and hour laws.
If you believe your employer is violating these laws, you should consult with a labor attorney in your state.
However, even if you choose not to engage legally, know that these violations are a sign that it may be time to find a new employer.
3. They make you feel guilty for being a working parent.
If your employer makes you feel guilty for being a working parent, it may be time to hit the road.
Not only that, but they could be engaging in conduct that constitutes unlawful discrimination–for example, based on pregnancy or family status.
Nevertheless, even if your employer’s conduct does not cross over into discrimination territory, conduct that disparages workers because of parental obligations is harmful, antiquated, and bad for business.
Take it as a sign that it may be time to move on.
4. HR is ineffective.
A business or organization is only as healthy as its Human Resources Department.
As this Forbes piece states, “each employee’s life cycle begins and ends in the HR department.”
“Human resources professionals are the protectors of the company culture and the purveyors of the corporate conscious.” [Forbes].
HR has a duty to thoroughly investigate the employee complaints that come its way.
It’s a weighty responsibility, and thankfully there are many good HR professionals out there who take their jobs seriously and do an admirable job of balancing their obligations to both workers and the employer.
However, there are others who fail in this regard. Frequently, this has as much to do with a workplace’s culture as it does with an HR rep’s professional abilities.
That being said, a work environment where HR fails is a work environment where toxicity thrives.
Keep that in mind when deciding whether it’s time to move to a different employer.
5. There is a high turnover rate.
Another sign it’s time to leave? Everyone else leaves–constantly.
It is never a good sign when an employer can’t retain its workforce.
It is much more expensive for an employer to hire new talent than to retain its current pool.
If they can’t get anyone to stick around, it may be a sign of deeper problems within the organization.
6. They engage in discriminatory employment practices.
If you think your employer may be engaging in unlawful discrimination, this article I wrote for Fairygodboss may help you.
In it, I share the various signs that point to unlawful workplace discrimination, including, but not limited to: questionable hiring practices, biased language, unfair promotions or assignment of work, unequal pay, assumptions regarding an employee’s plans or abilities, disparate enforcement of policies, and retaliation.
If your employer is engaging in workplace discrimination, or if you have reason to believe they are, you might take it as a sign that they’re not the right employer for you.
Do remember that the onus is not on you as a worker to leave though. Rather, it’s on the employer to stop its unlawful practices.
I’ve known many victims of workplace discrimination who chose to stick it out with an employer for one reason or another.
Whether because of length of service, pension options, fringe benefits, job security, passion for the work performed, or some other reason entirely, choosing to stay with an employer is a personal choice.
You don’t have to leave, but, like any relationship, it is your choice to do so if it’s not right for you.
7. Your gut is telling you to go.
The final sign it may be time to ditch your toxic employer? Your gut is telling you to go.
I know it is hard. For the most part, people need their jobs, and it’s not like new positions just fall from the sky.
It takes time to build a reputation and a career, and upending that overnight is not a choice most would willingly undertake.
But, if you’re in a bad place, you might want to consider doing so.
Only you will know what’s right for you.
Disclaimer: This blog does not provide legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. Always contact an attorney directly if you are in need of legal advice.