Verbal abuse in the workplace is never acceptable. Every worker deserves to be treated with dignity and respect by everyone around them—from co-workers to supervisors to third-party vendors and contractors. Verbal abuse in the workplace creates an environment that is harmful to workers’ mental and emotional health. Ultimately, it can force a worker to quit or respond in other harmful ways. In those situations, it may seem like the worker does not have any choice in what is happening to them. However, employees can take action if they believe they are being verbally abused at work.
Verbal abuse can be a wide variety of verbal contact with an employee. Perhaps the best way to understand verbal abuse is to consider a few examples where abuse might arise. Situations that involve verbal abuse might include:
- Using demeaning language
- Using insulting, offensive, or vulgar language
- Harassing remarks because of race, gender, religion, or other characteristics
- Put downs and ranting
- Blaming and criticism
Verbal abuse can take a lot of forms, and it is often open to interpretation. What one person thinks is abusive may not be offensive to another person.
Verbal abuse is often very harmful. It can result in workers questioning their abilities, reducing confidence, and shame or even hostile reactions. Workers treating each other poorly will often create a negative working environment. When employees feel unsafe or unappreciated at work, their productivity decreases. According to one study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research in Public Health, toxic working environments can also increase the occurrence of burnout as well.
Workers should not have to endure workplace verbal abuse. However, responding to the abuse can be difficult, especially when it comes from a manager or supervisor. If verbal abuse is occurring in the workplace, it is often a good idea to bring the situation to the attention of the human resources department. Workers could also talk to the abuser directly to address the situation. A candid conversation can sometimes address the abuse before it gets worse. If a worker is uncomfortable having this conversation themselves, they may want to talk to the abuser’s supervisor or manager to make a report.
Situations that give rise to verbal abuse might trigger a legal claim. If the abuse is persistent, it may create a hostile work environment. When a hostile work environment is created due to harassment about certain protected issues, that may result in a civil rights claim. Protected classifications will often include:
- National Origin or ancestry
- Sexual Orientation
- Pregnancy and childbirth
It might be a good idea to keep a journal or record of incidents involving verbal abuse. This type of information may be helpful if a legal claim is necessary. It shows how often the abuse occurred and what the abuse was about, which are all facts that can be helpful in a legal claim.
Speaking with an attorney about verbal abuse in the workplace can be a good idea as well. An employment lawyer may be able to evaluate your situation to determine whether you have legal options you should pursue.
In most situations, an employee can be terminated for any non-discriminatory reason. If an employee is verbally abusing others, it is certainly possible that their employer chooses to fire them for those actions.
If verbal abuse occurs, an employer is likely to speak to the abuser to get their side of the story first before terminating them. If the abuse persists, an employer is often well within its rights to end the employment relationship with that person.
Verbal abuse in the workplace is more common than you might expect. In fact, according to a survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute, roughly 30% of those surveyed have experienced verbal abuse in the workplace and reported it.
Those who experience abuse report feelings of anxiety or panic about going to work or being at work. They might also experience symptoms of depression, including loss of interest in activities that were previously enjoyable and changes in sleep, appetite, and energy levels.
Establishing a clear policy when hiring new personnel is essential. Develop a comprehensive policy that clearly defines and addresses verbal abuse in the workplace. The policy should outline what constitutes verbal abuse, the consequences for engaging in such behavior, and the reporting process for employees who experience or witness it.
Provide regular training sessions for all employees to educate them about acceptable behavior, respectful communication, and the importance of maintaining a positive work environment. Training should emphasize the impact of verbal abuse, how to recognize it, and steps to take if they witness or experience it.
If an employee reports a case of verbal abuse as a victim or an incident they have observed, offer mediation as an option to resolve conflicts arising from verbal abuse. A trained mediator can facilitate a discussion between the parties involved, allowing them to express their concerns, understand each other’s perspectives, and work towards a resolution. Mediation can help rebuild relationships and restore a healthier work environment.
Offer support to employees who have experienced verbal abuse. This can include counseling services, employee assistance programs, or access to resources that help them cope with the emotional and psychological impact of the abuse.
These strategies are geared towards fostering a positive work environment. Encourage teamwork, open communication, and mutual respect among employees. Promote a culture that values diversity, inclusion, and constructive feedback. Recognize and reward positive behavior and achievements to reinforce a positive work environment.
Remember, it is important to consult with your organization’s HR department to ensure that your mediation efforts align with company policies and legal requirements.
Take Action to Address Verbal Abuse in the Workplace
Verbal abuse in the workplace often does not go away on its own. Instead, workers who feel that they are being abused may need to take action to address the situation. Reporting the abuse and keeping a record are important first steps. Speaking directly with the abuser about the situation might be helpful as well. Ultimately, no worker should feel abused or disrespected in the workplace, but an employee may need to bring the situation to their employer’s attention to address the situation.
To learn more about verbal abuse in the workplace, consider contacting a skilled Atlanta employment law attorney from Hall & Lampros, LLP, by calling (404) 876-8100 to schedule a consultation today.