What Is Considered Verbal Harassment in the Workplace?

Shouting, belittling, disparaging remarks, name-calling, and offensive or obscene language are considered verbal abuse in the workplace, as are harassing comments regarding an employee’s gender, race, or sexual orientation. Verbal harassment may be attributed to company owners, supervisors, managers, coworkers, and even clients, customers, or contractors.

Employees are protected from verbal harassment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act. These federal laws also establish discrimination protection from verbal harassment based on protected classes, including race, color, age, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, nationality, and religion.

Verbal harassment is legally defined as use of offensive, abrasive, hostile, or derogatory language directed at an employee or a coworker, and includes slurs, mockery, jokes, bullying, intimidation, and insults. Harassment becomes unlawful when it becomes a daily condition of your employment, or persistent and severe enough to create a hostile work environment.

Perpetrators of verbal harassment may employ several tactics, from overtly harassing to more subtle language, or even subjecting others to the silent treatment, which controls and punishes the target. Common forms of verbal harassment include:

  • Critiquing: Criticism in the workplace is meant to be constructive to help the employee improve and succeed. The use of intentional and harmful criticism to purposely devalue an employee and make them feel bad about themselves is abusive.
  • Blaming: Making the target believe they have brought the harassment on themselves.
  • Gaslighting: An emotionally abusive tactic that intentionally leads the target to doubt their own reality and judgement, along with believing they are responsible for the harassment they receive.
  • Judging: Purposely looking down on the target, refusing acceptance, identifying them as unequal or unworthy, and holding them to different standards.
  • Name-calling: Intentional insults and abuse that erodes self-esteem, sense of self-worth, and self-concept.
  • Threatening: Statements to purposely scare, manipulate, or control the target into complying.

Verbal harassment by any of these methods can negatively affect an employee’s entire life and cause mental anguish, such as depression, anxiety, insomnia, fearfulness, and feelings of unworthiness and shame.

What Should I Do if I Experience Verbal Harassment at Work?

In order to stop the abuse of verbal harassment, you must first confront it. Addressing it directly with the person who is committing the harassment can sometimes be enough to end it, but if the behavior continues or escalates, you should:

  • Keep a record. Document each incident, noting what was said, the date, time, who was present, and context in which the comment was made.
  • Inform a supervisor. Tell your supervisor or manager about the incidences, what was said, by whom, how it made you feel, and ask them to speak to the employee about it.
  • Involve HR. If speaking with your supervisor was unsuccessful in stopping the harassment, report it to the HR Department, who should investigate the claim and speak with you and your colleagues about the situation. This step may take place simultaneously with informing your supervisor if company policy requires the supervisor to report all instances of harassment to HR as soon as they are notified.

If all else fails, you may be able to file a lawsuit as a last resort. Unfortunately, there are no specific rules regarding when verbal harassment qualifies for a lawsuit, however, to form a case, you typically (your lawyer) must prove that the harasser intended to cause you harm. Your case may be eligible for suit if you can prove:

  • The employee intentionally verbally harassed you using abusive or insulting language.
  • The employee should have known the verbal harassment would cause you severe emotional distress.
  • You suffered psychological or emotional distress as a result of the harassment.

Speak with an employment attorney to determine whether you have a viable case.

South Jersey Employment Lawyer at The Law Offices of Leo B. Dubler, III, LLC Advocates for Clients Experiencing Verbal Harassment at Work

If you are experiencing pervasive verbal harassment at work that your employer has ignored, our experienced South Jersey employment lawyer at The Law Offices of Leo B. Dubler, III, LLC will help you fight back. Call us at 856-235-7075 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation. Located in Atlantic City and Mount Laurel, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout South Jersey, including Cherry Hill, Burlington County, and Camden County.