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Verbal abuse and employment disputes

California workers have the right to enjoy a safe and healthy working environment. However, some workplaces may experience verbal abuse. Although laws are not in place specifically outlawing such behavior, the employers who allow verbal abuse to continue may still be held to be liable for damages as a result.

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration has standards in place that employers are to provide a safe and healthy work environment. Some courts have interpreted this standard to mean that verbal abuse is forbidden if it makes the resulting environment less safe or healthy. For example, the Supreme Court of Indiana awarded a nurse $325,000 in damages after being screamed at by a surgeon, making her workplace intolerable as a result.

Employers should have policies in place to prevent workplace verbal abuse. Employees should be able to complain to a human resources manager or other designated person about being verbally abused. Employers should then investigate the incident and, if it is determined that the abuse is occurring, they should take action to stop the behavior. Otherwise, employees may wish to file a civil lawsuit in the event the employer knows about the verbal abuse and does nothing about it.

Workplace bullying and verbal abuse can be a common problem. Many people may be familiar with a coworker who regularly dresses down others in order to gain a sense of control or power. Employers may have the obligation prevent such ongoing problems and protect their employees. When an employer does nothing about that behavior, employees may wish to consult with an employment law attorney about the advisability of filing a civil lawsuit.

Source: Houston Chronicle, "Worker's Rights in the Workplace Regarding Verbal Abuse", Dana Sparks, November 23, 2014

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