The Liability in Workplace Verbal Harassment

Even if the old cliché says that “words would never hurt me,” it has been proven true that words do hurt, although not in the way that sticks and stone would. People often hear stories of kids being bullied in school through name-calling or teasing, but such verbal abuse happens not just in schools. Even in the workplace – or employment in general – people still experience tongue-lashing.

Verbal harassment in the workplace probably happens more often than physical or non-verbal ones, but such attacks often go unreported primarily because the harassed employee are not aware of the laws concerning such. They may also think that a verbal criticism, especially one that comes from their superior, is nothing more than opinions being articulated.

Even if employers or bosses are free to criticize their employees especially if they have done something wrong, it should still be done properly and not in a derogatory manner. It may even be considered illegal if the verbal harassment in the workplace is only experienced by selected employees because they belong in a “protected class” (i.e. age, sex, disability, color, national origin, race, etc.).

Employee Responsibility

Verbal abuse may also be conducted by an employee toward another employee. This may happen even when the harasser is not doing the conduct in front of the harassed employee. The harassed employee should report the misconduct to his superior as soon as possible.

Employer Responsibility

The employer may be held responsible for the verbal harassment if he himself is the one who conducted it, or if one of the employees did it. In order to avoid liability for the latter scenario, the employer should address a harassment complaint immediately, and pass on penalties to the guilty employee if necessary.


Verbal abuse can only be considered as harassment in the eyes of the law if it is severe enough to result to a hostile working environment for the employees, affecting also their job performance. Careful consideration must be done, as a simple freedom of expressing may be mistaken for verbal harassment.

Examples of Verbal Harassment

The following actions may constitute verbal harassment. However, remember that such actions may be done not only through speaking, but even through written statements.

• Blaming the employee

• Sarcastic remarks

• Swearing excessively

• Threatening

• Unnecessary interrogation

• Using derogatory names to address him

• Using words to embarrass or insult the employee, especially in public setting

• Yelling or screaming

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