The Lawyers at Lockhart-Gardner like to fight for the underdog, or at least they do up through season two, where I am now. So, when a company treats its employees so terribly that they begin committing suicide, Alicia Florrick and bosses are on the job.
They uncover documents that show an HR consulting firm recommended making employees' lives so miserable that they would quit. If the employees quit, the firm saves a fortune in severance costs. Partner Will Gardner says, "They deliberately created a hostile work environment to get people to quit."
This, my friends, is why you don't hire a general services firm to handle your employment law case. All the highly paid lawyers sitting around the table have no clue what a hostile work environment is.
It sounds like this situation--a bad company makes things miserable. The managers yell, humiliate employees, force people into substandard offices, and generally make life miserable. It sounds pretty hostile, right?
Except, a hostile work environment has nothing to do with yelling bosses, closed break rooms, or getting assigned a dark cubicle in an unpleasant location. The legal definition of hostile workplace requires that the hostility is because of race, sex, or other protected characteristic.
In other words, it's perfectly legal to be a jerk, as long as you're an equal opportunity jerk.
Does that mean you should be a jerk? That you should try to get people to quit rather than just fire or lay them off? Absolutely not. If you create a rotten environment in the hopes of getting people to leave on their own, to avoid your uncomfortable feelings at firing someone, or having to pay increased unemployment insurance costs, your company will suffer in other ways. (Incidentally, the Lockhart/Gardner lawyers didn't understand that severance isn't required either, except in special cases that this company didn't meet.) How will they suffer?
The wrong people will quit
Do you know why people work for you? Because they need the money. Most people won't quit until they have a new job lined up. Who will find new jobs the fastest? The best and the brightest. You'll never turn your company around when all the good people respond to your boorish behavior by quitting.
Miserable people don't do good work.
When you choose to yell at, belittle, or even swear at employees they don't respond by saying, "Gee, I now feel super motivated to do a good job!" No, they don't do a good job, aren't engaged, and won't give the company your best.
Hiring becomes more difficult
People talk. People share things on Glassdoor. It won't take long before people find out that your company is an awful place to work. People with options will go elsewhere.
So, while making a workplace seem hostile doesn't meet the definition of a hostile workplace, you still shouldn't do it. Being a jerk isn't good for business.