Verbal Abuse & Harassment in the Workplace

By Theresa Smith
Workplace violence
gewalt image by Jens Klingebiel from

Violence in the workplace is often misconceived as being physical violence, however that is just one of the many many types of violence that can be found in the workplace. Although physical violence seems to be the most prolific it actually isn't; it is just more widely discussed and news worthy. Other types of violence and harassment are not often discussed and are looked over by many. Verbal abuse and harassment is just one of the many types.


Verbal abuse and harassment can manifest in several ways. Verbal abuse and harassment can come in the form of bullying, stalking, sexual harassment, racial harassment, disability harassment and even harassment due to sexual orientation.


Verbal abuse and harassment is illegal and is against federal law. Although the abuse is verbal it can still cause very real damage, such as anxiety, fear, feelings of hopelessness and other types of psychological and emotional damage. Many times it is employers who target employees and making them feel like they can't do anything right and that they will never get anywhere in the company because they are incompetent. These employers verbally beat down employees to such a degree that they may just feel happy to have a job, so the abuse goes unreported. This type of abuse is not isolated just to the employer/employee relationship but can also take place on the peer level. Employees often attack their peers in different ways and for many different reasons. However, there is no reason that makes this type of behavior acceptable.


The first, and perhaps the most important, thing to do is to check your own behaviors to ensure that you are not being a perpetrator an enabler of abuse. Always be mindful of the things that you say and how your message may sound to others. If you are in a supervisory role, be encouraging to your employees, thus sending a positive model to all those around you., When giving constructive criticism be mindful not to belittle or condescend the person you are talking to. It is not necessary nor is it ever acceptable. Do not enable an abusive situation by laughing or participating in the jokes no matter how harmless it may seem.


Verbal abuse and harassment in the workplace can breed a hostile environment. If workers are always feeling put down and unappreciated, the morale is bound to be low, thus not providing an environment that will not be very productive. Picking on someone because of their race, religion, sex or even sexual preference is illegal and can also bring on a hefty lawsuit to the company. At the very least, it can and should cause a loss of employment.

Seeking Help

If you are a victim or a witness of any type of workplace violence of any type, make it your responsibility to report it. While it may seem easier to turn a cheek and you may even look at it as if it is none of your business, that would deem you and enabler and at as much fault as the perpetrator. Go to a manager or supervisor. If it is the manager or supervisor that is perpetrating the harassment, then go to the corporate office. Many companies have telephone numbers for an employee assistance plan where things like this can be reported, sometimes even anonymously.

About the Author

Theresa Smith began writing in 1998, working on material for employee-assistance programs. She has experience as a counselor and criminal law paralegal. She contributes to eHow, focusing on mental health and legal topics. Smith has a Bachelor of Science in business from Chicago State University and is pursuing a Master of Science in clinical psychology from Columbia Southern University.