Verbal abuse can contribute to a hostile work environment and be punishable by law. Employers are responsible for their own speech and appropriate reprimand of hostile comments by their managers. However, verbal abuse might be ignored because of a fear that the employee's job is at risk if reported.
Verbal abuse affects everyone in the workplace. No one should tolerate slander, name-calling, threats, yelling, screaming and jokes of a sexual or discriminatory nature. Unfortunately, cases of verbal abuse usually occur in a one-on-one environment where there is no witness. Common abusive situations have the abuser in control of other employees to a degree that they're threatened also of losing their job.
Abusers use controlling behaviors to exert their power over the abused. Examples of these types of behavior include demeaning the work of the employee and praising insignificant details of the work they are assigned. Abusers might tell their employees that their presentation was not necessary and had little bearing on company decisions, but, in the same conversation, insist that their ability to sort mail or keep a clean desk was exemplary. The abuser might be unaware of this cycle of abusive, controlling behavior and continue it over time.
Verbal abuse of certain groups of people is more common. Immigrant labor, women, gay/lesbian or transgender and prisoners are protected by advocacy groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). A verbal abuser almost always has financial control over the abused. It is a human right to be allowed to work with equal pay, respect and dignity.
Abused persons may never succeed in convincing their abusers that they are in the wrong. Most attempts will result in the abuser becoming defensive and threatening. It is important for the abused employees to remain firm in their request for the abuser to stop. It is possible that the abuser will retaliate; therefore, confronting the abuser in a group setting with witnesses is ideal.
Verbal abuse is considered harassment. Employees have a basic human right to work without discrimination based on age, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or religious beliefs. Hostile work environments include those where an employee is the subject of jokes, belittling comments or threatening reprimands. Federal law requires employers to act in a manner consistent with protecting against liability for prosecution. A general rule of thumb to follow is if employees are making comments that would be considered inappropriate for the company of their grandmother, then it is best to end the conversation and apologize to the person they are speaking to or about.