Employers cannot allow a hostile or violent situation to continue in their workplaces; if they do, they open themselves up to employee lawsuits. When co-workers verbally abuse one another, however, the law is murkier. Some states allow lawsuits related to continuing verbal abuse while others don't. In addition, states may define verbal abuse differently, so what you consider abusive behavior, your state may not consider worthy of a lawsuit.
State Laws Vary
State laws vary as to whether verbal abuse is considered grounds for a lawsuit. If a state has laws in place prohibiting bullying in the workplace, you may be able to sue if your employer does not do anything to correct the problem after you bring it to his attention. However, if the state does not have laws against bullying, verbal abuse may not be considered a serious enough offense to warrant a lawsuit.
Communicate With Employer
Regardless of whether your state allows you to sue for verbal abuse, you must communicate with your employer about the situation. In most states, if your employer does not do anything about the situation, you may be eligible for unemployment if you quit because of your hostile working environment, but if you don't talk to your boss, she can claim that she didn't know verbal abuse was occurring. If your boss is the bully, talk to someone in human resources about how to resolve the problem.
Escalation of Violence
If a verbally abusive person becomes physically violent, your employer may be liable if he didn't do anything to stop the escalation of violence. Most companies train employers and supervisors in recognizing warning signs of potential violence and require them to take action to attempt to prevent violence. If the employer makes no such attempt, you may be able to sue if your co-worker physically attacks you even if you can't directly sue for verbal abuse.
Contact an Attorney
If your employer or a co-worker continually verbally abuses you and talking with your employer, his boss or the human resources department does not resolve the situation, contact an attorney who specializes in employment rights issues. Your attorney can advise you as to whether a lawsuit is viable as well as suggest the best course of action for you to take to stop the bullying. If you cannot afford an attorney, contact your state's legal aid department to attempt to get one for free or low cost.
Jack Ori has been a writer since 2009. He has worked with clients in the legal, financial and nonprofit industries, as well as contributed self-help articles to various publications.