No employee should be subjected to upsetting verbal abuse and dread going to work. Verbal abuse such as name-calling, bullying, and humiliation, can result in mental and physical health issues. Moreover, a hostile work environment can also hinder career progression, reduce productivity, and have negative financial consequences for individuals.
While no laws explicitly protect workers from verbal abuse, an employer is generally responsible for providing employees with a safe work environment free of harassment. Despite labor laws hardly touching on verbal abuse, you could pursue legal action and recover compensation in certain circumstances. Find out whether you have a case against an employer by contacting us today for a free consultation.
What Is Verbal Abuse?
According to Forbes, workplace bullying is on the rise, with nearly four out of ten employees affected. Verbal abuse can have devastating mental and physical consequences for victims, especially if they are subjected to daily intimidation and threats.
Types of Verbal Abuse in the Workplace
Verbal abuse in the workplace can come in many different forms, including but not limited to:
Insults, abusive language, racial slurs and other types of derogatory and offensive language can erode a victim’s self-esteem and feeling of self-worth.
Threats and Intimidation
Threats and intimidation can be used to control, manipulate, and scare a victim into doing what the abuser wants. Some perpetrators threaten a victim’s physical safety or their property.
Blaming and Gaslighting
An abuser may try to blame the verbal abuse on the victim or try to make them question their own judgment and sanity.
Abuse includes persistent and unwarranted criticism that is not constructive but instead hurtful, personal, and aimed at making the victim feel bad.
Verbal abuse can include making fun of the victim or humiliating them in front of others on a recurring basis.
Harassment is an umbrella term that can describe many types of ongoing verbal abuse in the workplace. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), harassment includes any unwelcome conduct involving race, color, religion, sex, national origin, older age, disability, or genetic information.
Most types of verbal or emotional abuse are, unfortunately, not illegal in the workplace according to current labor laws, with the exception of harassment of protected classes. However, you could still have legal recourse if you suffer from verbal abuse, especially if your work environment is generally hostile and damaging to your health. An employment attorney from our firm can walk you through your options.
The Impact of Verbal Abuse at Work
Verbal abuse can severely impact an individual’s home life, relationships, work performance, and career development. However, verbal mistreatment, especially over a prolonged time period, can also cause significant mental health problems, including:
- Anxiety and depression
- Chronic stress
- Decreased self-esteem
- Feelings of worthlessness or shame
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Substance abuse
In some cases, prolonged verbal abuse can have negative consequences on the physical health of the victim, causing chronic pain, heart racing, tremors, and other health problems.
Labor Laws and Verbal Abuse
If you are the victim of verbal or emotional abuse at work, your legal options could be limited as there are no federal or state laws specifically dealing with verbal abuse. However, according to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), an employer can potentially be held accountable for failing to provide a safe and healthy workplace for employees. If an employee is unable to carry out their daily job duties due to persistent verbal abuse at work, an employer could be liable due to retaining an abusive employee.
In some cases, verbal abuse can be unlawful. According to 18 U.S. Code § 16, threats of violence against you or your property are generally illegal, whether they happen in or out of the workplace. If verbal abuse crosses over to harassment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), or the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), you could also have legal recourse.
If you have been subjected to verbal abuse that falls into any of the following criteria, labor laws and other regulations could help you to fight back:
- The verbal abuse was based on a protected characteristic
- The verbal mistreatment happened over a prolonged period of time
- You were threatened with violence against your person or property
- The incidents can be interpreted as hostile
You could potentially sue your employer over a hostile work environment.
An attorney from our firm can help you understand your legal rights.
You Could Recover Compensation
The damages you could potentially recover with a lawsuit will vary depending on your specific verbal abuse case. You could be entitled to:
If you missed out on a promotion, were denied a pay rise, or were terminated from your job due to harassment or bullying at work, you could be entitled to back pay, such as:
- Back wages
- Pay rises you should have received
- Sick pay or vacation pay
- Pension or retirement benefits
- Commissions or tips
If you had to leave your position or lost your job due to prolonged verbal harassment, you could be entitled to future loss of income.
Medical Bills and Out-of-Pocket Costs
If ongoing verbal abuse had a negative impact on your emotional or physical health, you could be entitled to any healthcare expenses you incurred as a result, such as:
- Psychological counselling
- Cost of medications
- Cost of doctor’s appointments
- Medical treatments
You could also potentially pursue other out-of-pocket expenses such as job search or retraining expenses.
If verbal abuse at work caused you considerable emotional and physical distress, you could potentially recover non-economic damages such as awards for pain and suffering.
A court may award punitive damages when an employer is found to have acted egregiously. For example, the employer knew of the hostile work environment but did nothing to fix the situation. Punitive damages are designed to punish the employer and deter them from creating a hostile and unsafe work environment in the future.