Angry boss scolding or firing upset intern in office

Verbal Harassment in the Workplace

By Douglas Lipsky

Verbal harassment in the workplace is a serious issue that affects many employees across multiple industries in New York. This type of conduct can create a hostile work environment and negatively impact the victim’s well-being and ability to perform their job duties. Let’s take a look at verbal harassment and what you can do about it.

What is Verbal Harassment in the Workplace?

Verbal harassment in the workplace can take many forms, including:

  • Jokes
  • Innuendoes
  • Slurs
  • Name-calling
  • Insults
  • Threats
  • Yelling
  • Cursing
  • Mocking

The effects of verbal harassment in the workplace can be devastating. Victims may experience anxiety, depression, and a decreased sense of self-worth. They may also suffer from physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach problems, and sleep disturbances. Additionally, verbal harassment can cause victims to miss work or quit altogether, leading to financial instability and career setbacks.

When Verbal Harassment Creates a Hostile Work Environment

Verbal harassment is not only emotionally damaging, but can also create a hostile work environment. This form of harassment often goes hand-in-hand with sexual harassment and may involve unwanted sexual advances or offensive comments. Although sexual harassment is illegal, it is a persistent problem in many workplaces.

Another common form of verbal harassment in the workplace is racial or ethnic harassment. This can involve derogatory comments or jokes based on a person’s race or ethnicity. Racial/ethnic harassment can create a hostile work environment and cause victims to feel discriminated against. It can also negatively impact job performance and career advancement opportunities. 

Verbal harassment may also constitute discrimination based on:

  • Age
  • Color
  • Disability
  • Religion
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender identity
  • Medical conditions
  • Military or reserve status

Federal and state laws protect workers from verbal harassment that involves discrimination in the workplace.

Verbal Harassment and Bullying

Verbal harassment can also take the form of bullying, which involves repeated derogatory comments, insults, or threats directed at the victim. A supervisor or a coworker can take part in bullying and can create a toxic work environment for the victim. This type of behavior can lead to decreased job satisfaction, increased stress, and a loss of confidence. While verbal abuse in the workplace isn’t illegal on its own, it can become unlawful when it rises to the level of harassment or discrimination.

The Bottom Line

Verbal harassment in the workplace may constitute unlawful employment discrimination. Therefore, employers must take steps to prevent and address it. This can involve implementing policies and procedures that outline acceptable behavior and consequences for violations. Employers can also provide training and education to employees on the importance of creating a respectful and inclusive workplace. 

Additionally, victims of verbal harassment should report the behavior to a supervisor or human resources representative. If the harassment continues, victims may have a valid hostile work environment claim. Although proving verbal harassment is challenging, victims can recover damages, such as lost wages if they were forced to quit due to the verbal abuse or fired for complaining about discrimination.
Ultimately, employers must strive to to create a positive work environment. And if you have been victimized by verbal harassment in your workplace, talk to an experienced employment lawyer.

About the Author
Douglas Lipsky is a co-founding partner of Lipsky Lowe LLP. He has extensive experience in all areas of employment law, including discrimination, sexual harassment, hostile work environment, retaliation, wrongful discharge, breach of contract, unpaid overtime, and unpaid tips. He also represents clients in complex wage and hour claims, including collective actions under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and class actions under the laws of many different states. If you have questions about this article, contact Douglas today.