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Verbal abuse in the workplace

An employee in New York may view bullying as a problem affecting young people, but for some, workplace abuse in the form of verbal bullying is a reality. According to a 2010 report by the U.S. Workforce Bullying Institute, more than one-third of employees across the country reported experiencing bullying in a work-related setting. Although such bullying can take many forms, verbal abuse is one of the most prevalent. Typically, employers have the responsibility for stopping and preventing such behavior.

Inappropriate comments can take many forms. They might be sexual in nature, or they might be derogatory, critical of a disability, physical traits, race or religion. Studies indicate that it is most common for a verbally abusive individual in the workplace to have seniority or to be a leader in the company. In many cases, such an individual has created a culture of tolerance of the behavior because colleagues might fear becoming targets if they stand up against the offensive behavior.

Although state and federal laws related to verbal abuse are lacking, an employer should note that the failure to provide a safe and healthy environment for work could lead to liability under OSHA standards. It is important to provide measures within one's company for an abused worker to address the issue. Failure to take appropriate steps to address a complaint could lead to potential litigation.

An employee who has been subjected to verbal abuse may worry about job-related backlash for reporting an incident or a pattern of abuse. However, pursuing the provided avenues for reporting a problem may increase the strength of a later legal claim if action is not taken by the employer to correct a problem. Legal advice may be important if there are concerns about how to proceed.

Source: The Houston Chronicle , "Worker's Rights in the Workplace Regarding Verbal Abuse", Dana Sparks, December 12, 2014

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