California Verbal Abuse at Work Attorney

verbal harassment lawyer in california

Verbal Abuse in the Workplace

Did you know verbal abuse and threats are the most common forms of abuse that American employees faced in the workplace, according to a RAND Corporation survey? When you leave your job feeling anger, despair, frustration, disappointment, disillusionment, or resentment, don’t dismiss those emotions if they were caused by a supervisor or coworker who broke laws protecting employees in the workplace. If your emotional and physical pain is severe enough and the offending conduct was severe enough, you may have a case worth pursuing. Speak to a California attorney with experience in employment cases who can help you understand the steps you should take to preserve the evidence and protect your rights to file a claim within the appropriate timeline.

Common forms of verbal abuse involve the abuser saying things that are meant to:

  • Insult the other person
  • Counter the other person’s point of view
  • Accuse or blame the other person
  • Block and divert the person’s choice of discussion topic
  • Undermine the person
  • Trivialize the person’s idea or accomplishment
  • Withhold information or thoughts and feelings
  • Disguise an insult as a joke
  • Threaten the other person
  • Discount the other person’s idea

Not all of these forms of verbal abuse constitute harassment under California law. Also, California law doesn’t protect employees from minor insults. For abuse to constitute harassment, it must be severe—such as a sexual assault or pervasive conduct, meaning the verbally abusive comments happen on a regular basis.

The Research on Workplace Abuse

According to the 2015 American Working Conditions Survey, a part of the RAND American Life Panel,

“Overall, nearly one in five American workers were subjected to some form of verbal abuse, unwanted sexual attention, threats, or humiliating behavior at work in the past month, or to physical violence, bullying or harassment, or sexual harassment at work in the past year.”

Workplace abuse could stem from a relationship in which a worker is at a disadvantage (as in worker-boss) or it may stem from a worker-worker conflict. At first, many people are afraid to come forward, and the reasons aren’t hard to recognize (such as not wanting to lose your job, benefits, or friends).

Verbal Abuse Is the Most Common Type

The AWCS Survey also found: “The most common adverse events were verbal abuse and threats (12.8 percent experiencing in the past month), bullying or harassment including sexual harassment (10.2 percent in the past year), and humiliating behavior (9 percent in the past month).”

Could Your Job Make You Sick?

If you believe you are the victim of verbal abuse at work, seriously consider its impact on your health and well-being. Speaking to an attorney can help you understand the legal process. The reasons you want to keep your job are your own, but verbal abuse shouldn’t continue at the expense of your health. Your health is its own form of wealth.

How Important Is Mental Health?

Before considering the effects of verbal abuse, consider the importance of your mental health. Many people mistakenly assume that a mental health issue is not visible. There’s also a general belief that people should manage their workplace stress and people often attach a stigma to people who seek mental health services. Society may perceive them as somehow weaker than other people who don’t seek help.

Living with any mental health issue, however, is not something people can help, especially if they are born with a condition or if their issue originates in their environment (as with verbal abuse).

However, a recent quote from Australian psychologist Chris Harris makes us wonder:

“That’s a myth. Mental health is something you can see. It impacts on concentration, attention, decision-making, the ability to be close to people, the ability to laugh, to enjoy. When your brain is under strain—the same as a sprained ankle—there is clear behavioral evidence of that.”

If you’re stressed at work, coworkers who might know you only casually will begin to witness the effects on your demeanor. Colleagues can sense when something’s different with you, but they may not feel comfortable bringing it up. If you believe you can hide the effects of stress, think again. It affects all of your relationships.

You might seek mental health counseling from your employee assistance program or through your private health insurance to cope with the stress of this difficult situation.

Look at Your Working Conditions

It’s troubling that employees in a hostile workplace can suffer physical stress or even psychological or emotional problems after suffering from verbal abuse. If you’re working in a job that produces physical symptoms that you ignore, your health could quickly decline. For some workers, this may manifest in more physical ways, such as back pain or headaches. For others, the stress of verbal abuse may cause symptoms such as anxiety, difficulty sleeping, depression, excessive crying, or overeating.

Keep a Record

When you speak to an attorney specializing in employment law, you will get specific advice as to whether you have a claim. An attorney can also explain to you how to note each occurrence of verbal harassment, including the date, the time, the abuser’s comments, and the effects on your state of well-being. Keeping a journal can prove most helpful when you also describe other events that occurred on the entry date. Bear in mind that having a boss or coworker do one or more of these things to you once in a while does not necessarily constitute abuse. If you believe that someone at work is victimizing you, look for a pattern of verbal remarks.

Find Legal Assistance

Even though you will need to document each situation(s) in which you feel harassed, a pattern of abuse at your workplace may warrant filing a formal complaint against your employer through the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). An attorney can help you determine what constitutes a valid verbal abuse claim and if a DFEH or similar complaint is appropriate. Filing a claim with an attorney’s assistance may help to ensure that other personnel won’t suffer the same abuse in your workplace.

If you file a claim, you must show how your harassment was unwelcome, severe, and pervasive enough to constitute a hostile work environment. You can base your complaint on a protected category such as sex, gender, sexual orientation, age, race, disabling condition, or nationality. A DFEH complaint will likely include:

  • Your name, address, and telephone number
  • A short description of the events that you believe constitute discrimination (for example, you were terminated, demoted, or harassed)
  • Why you believe you were discriminated against—for example, because of your race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability, genetic information, or retaliation
  • A short description of any injury you suffered
  • Your signature (or your lawyer’s signature)

Change Your Stressful Situation

If abusive work conditions persist, ask an attorney how to immediately change your routines. You also want to find some relief from this environmental stress. Here are a few ideas:

  • Ask your lawyer if you should request a different cubicle or office away from the abuser.
  • Get up earlier for work and stop for coffee on the way.
  • Make time to read a book or watch a TV episode on your smartphone at lunch. Distract yourself from sources of workplace stress when possible in order to cope with them better.
  • Review your sleep patterns. Are you getting enough sleep? Should you go to bed earlier and get up earlier or keep yourself up late enough so you’ll sleep through the night?
  • Devote time to daily exercise, which helps to relieve stress and elevates your mood with endorphins. For people with health concerns, this could prove as simple as swimming a few laps, taking a walk, or attending a yoga class.
  • Take time away from work and other family obligations for leisure, such as a weekend vacation or a day trip to the beach.

The Importance of Taking Action

Though you may need to find healthy ways manage the stress from verbal abuse in the workplace, that’s not to say you should tolerate it or leave it unreported. Doing nothing leaves room for other employees to become the victims of the same abuse. Look through the employee handbook to locate your employer’s policy on this type of conduct and save that information for review with your attorney. An attorney with experience in hostile work environments will advise you as to whether to pursue a DFEH claim.