Is “role creep” making your workplace toxic?

On Behalf of | Apr 5, 2022 | Employment Law |

“Role creep” is an informal term for a worker taking on additional duties over the course of their tenure in a given position. While giving additional duties is a sign of trust, employees can find themselves overwhelmed by the situation. The employee’s struggle with tasks probably does not rise to the level of a hostile workplace under California law, but it may contribute to one inadvertently.

What is “hostile” under California law?

The law in California defines a hostile workplace as one where there is pervasive harassing behavior. While this behavior can take many forms, from sexual harassment to racially charged comments, hostility is defined less by the actions alone and more by their effects. According to the law, toxicity and harassment disrupt an employee’s “emotional tranquility in the workplace” by:

  • Offending employees
  • Humiliating workers
  • Upsetting people
  • Distracting from work

Notably, the listed effects are subjective. What distracts or offends one person may not matter to another. However, the point of the law is not to quibble or argue about whether a person should feel about a situation. The point of the law is to discourage significant pain for employees.

How role creep could contribute to hostility

Additional responsibilities tend to equal more stress. More stress can lead to shorter tempers and greater sensitivity. Too many workers doing too many jobs is a powder keg of low morale. If your employees are becoming more defensive and confrontational – hostile, in other words – then you face a significant risk of workplace toxicity.

Offering skilled, trusted employees more responsibility is a good thing for them and you. Allowing an office to compensate for understaffing at the expense of team morale risks quickly rising tensions. Tensions can turn toxic, but it doesn’t have to be that way.


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