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Types of Abuse in the Workplace

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For many people, just getting out of bed knowing they must go to the office is a difficult task. It may not be because they hate their job or career, but because they dread the abuse they face while at the workplace. There are laws in place to protect employees from certain types of workplace abuse. Knowing what to watch for could help you protect yourself and others from abuse in the workplace.

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is a serious offense that can get offenders into trouble. Employers can be held liable for damages in cases where an employee sues because of sexual harassment from a supervisor or another employee. This is why so many companies now mandate a sexual harassment prevention program for their new hires.

From a legal perspective, sexual harassment comes in two forms. Quid pro quo harassment is when one person offers something in exchange for something else. This may be an instance in which a supervisor promises a raise or promotion in exchange for sexual favors. This type of harassment is illegal even if the victim agrees to the exchange. The law is written this way to protect those who fear for their safety or employment if they do not go along.

The other type is called hostile environment sexual harassment. This type of harassment occurs when an employee is the recipient of unwanted sexual advances, sexually charged language, offensive sexual materials or physical contact. Often an isolated incident will not be considered a hostile environment. The court must determine that the harassment is both serious and frequent.

Verbal Harassment

Verbal harassment in the workplace, like sexual harassment, is a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This type of abuse in the workplace happens when one person is guilty of unwelcome verbal conduct that is discriminatory.

Any verbal harassment related to race, color, religion, sex, gender identity, age, disability, sexual orientation or for purposes of retaliation can be a violation of he law in some circumstances. If the conduct creates a hostile work environment or a supervisor’s harassment ends in the demotion, termination or reduction in benefits for an employee, then it is considered a violation.

Workplace Bullying

Workplace bullying is a term that refers to repeated and unreasonable abuses of power by individuals or groups against an employee or group of employees. This type of abuse is meant to intimidate the victim and often involves insults, degrading practical jokes, intentional humiliation in front of others or otherwise undermining the employee’s ability to retain dignity on the job.

Other examples of workplace bullying are invalid criticism, false blame, being treated differently from others, being the target of foul language, being left out of communication intentionally or constant needless monitoring in order to keep a person on edge.

This type of abuse in an isolated incident is merely aggressive behavior and may not be considered bullying. When a pattern of this abuse develops, it can be stressful and potentially ruin a career. This behavior is not illegal in the United States, however, so employees must find ways of dealing with the problem or else leave the job.

Keeping a detailed log of the bullying activity to present to a superior of the perpetrator may be the best tactic.


Lee Morgan is a fiction writer and journalist. His writing has appeared for more than 15 years in many news publications including the "Tennesseean," the "Tampa Tribune," "West Hawaii Today," the "Honolulu Star Bulletin" and the "Dickson Herald," where he was sports editor. He holds a Bachelor of Science in mass communications from Middle Tennessee State University.