It is important to understand the difference between an unpleasant work environment and a hostile one. An unpleasant environment exists where your employer or coworkers are rude, obnoxious and even nasty at times. However, this behavior does not amount to a legally hostile work environment unless the harassment or discrimination is based on a protected class. For instance, an employer who is rude is merely unpleasant. However, an employer who emails pornographic images to everyone in the office may have created a hostile work environment on the basis of sexual harassment or gender discrimination.
Examples of hostility may include off-color or racist jokes, passing around lewd and explicit material such as pornography or offensive cartoons, name calling and consistent harassment based on the above referenced classes, and more. Such harassment can also encompass any action that makes the terms and conditions of employment more difficult for protected class members.