Almost one-third of all employees in the workforce have been verbally abused at their place of employment according to the research done by the Workplace Bullying Institute. Other studies show that over 65 million Americans have been affected by verbal abuse in the workplace. The State of California prohibits verbal harassment in the workplace as a form of workplace violence. You have both federal and state legal rights to protection from verbal abuse in the workplace
Certain forms of verbal harassment and abuse in the workplace are actually considered workplace violence according to the U.S. Department of Labor. These types of verbal abuse can come in many forms such as cursing, insults, jokes, mocking, name-calling, racial or sexual slurs, threats, innuendoes, or threats of any kind. If any employee or supervisor uses threats, intimidation or coercion to violate, or attempt to violate, another employee’s rights under California or Federal Law or Constitution, that conduct may violate California’s Bane Civil Rights Act (California Civil Code 52.1)
However, some verbal harassment and abuse in the workplace may be much more subtle such as spreading gossip or lies, shaming or blaming a worker for something that they did or did not do, trivializing or dismissing an employee’s valid workplace concerns, or constantly interrupting or undermining workers. Any type of manipulation, harassment, condescension, or belittling is a form of verbal abuse, and if it persistently occurs, it can be considered an illegal form of workplace abuse.
Many workers suffer both emotional and physical consequences of a verbally abusive work environment. This type of workplace harassment or abuse can easily lead to an unsafe or unhealthy work environment in which an employee could develop anxiety, stress, depression, fear, or other health issues. Oftentimes, people are afraid to lose or leave their jobs because of the much-needed income, however, they feel trapped in an abusive environment and are unsure of their legal rights.
It is important to note that not all unkind words rise to the level of verbal abuse. If someone offhandedly calls a co-worker an “idiot” once, it likely does not rise to the level of an illegal act. However, if any verbal abuse occurs alongside sexual harassment or racial discrimination, it is absolutely an illegal act.
Violation of Federal Law – Verbal abuse may violate either Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 or the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) specifically defines harassment in the form of verbal abuse as any conduct that is unwelcome based on identifying factors such as race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, or genetic information.
Violation of California State Law – In 2014, California passed Assembly Bill 2053 which prevented any “abusive conduct” in the workplace. Specifically addressed in this legislation is that abusive conduct includes the repeated infliction of verbal abuse including derogatory remarks, insults, epithets, or any language that would seem threatening, intimidating or humiliating. If an employer fails to comply with this state law, it may face penalties from the Department of Fair Employment and Housing. This law will not actually create a civil lawsuit for abusive conduct. However, if abusive conduct is threatening, physical or creates unsafe working conditions, it can violated California’s Civil or Labor Code.
If you suffered verbal abuse in the workplace, research proves that this can cause stress, anxiety, depression and other emotional and physical consequences. The following are the steps you should consider if you want to stop the verbal abuse you suffer in the workplace.
File a Workplace Grievance – Your first step is to file a grievance with management. Your employee handbook should have the steps to follow regarding any type of workplace harassment or discrimination. Unfortunately, research regarding the complaint process in the workplace has shown that people who file complaints often face illegal retaliation by their employers including termination. Thus, it is important that your Complaint emphasize that the offending conduct was discriminatory, harassing, threatening or created unsafe working conditions.
Contact the EEOC – Whether or not you file a workplace grievance, you may also file a complaint with the EEOC. This agency specifically handles discrimination and harassment, and therefore, even if you make a final decision not to file an EEOC complaint, one of their counselors will visit with you for free regarding your case and provide you with information, resources, and tools as you move forward with your verbal abuse claim. However, it is important that you know you only have 180 calendar days from the date of the verbal abuse event to file a claim with the EEOC.
Contact the State of California – You also have the option to contact the State of California regarding your verbal abuse claim. California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) governs certain types of workplace abuse and specifically addresses mandatory employer responses regarding any verbal or physical sexual harassment claims. Also, one advantage of filing a claim with the State of California is that if you make the choice to file a claim with the FEHA, it may be automatically “dual-filed” with the EEOC as well.
File a Lawsuit – You may be able to sue your employer for verbal abuse. You may have a very strong case if you can prove that the verbal harassment or abuse was due to your membership in a protected class under federal or California state law. Additionally, if you can prove that your verbal abuse created any type of unsafe working environment, you may be able to pursue litigation under California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health, also known as CalOSHA or California’s Civil or Labor Code.
Contact V. James DeSimone Law at 310-693-5561 and meet with one of our experienced attorneys if you feel you have been the victim of verbal abuse at work. If the verbal harassment and abuse has been consistent, and your feel either threatened or uncomfortable in your workplace due to this verbal harassment or abuse, you may have legal grounds to sue your employer for either an unsafe working environment or due to discrimination.
You have several legal options, both at the federal and state level, and oftentimes the different choices can seem overwhelming. The decision to file a claim for verbal abuse in the workplace can involve complicated and complex legal strategies, and our experienced attorneys can help you build a strong case. We are available to talk about your case, starting with a free consultation, for qualifying cases after you speak with one of our intake team members and/or fill out an intake form. We will promptly let you know if we can help you.
Attorney V. James DeSimone is a 35+ year experienced civil rights & employment lawyer in Southern California. Jim is a Super Lawyer, Rated “Superb” by Avvo, and is a US News & World Report Best Law Firm in California.
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