Can you sue for verbal abuse in the workplace in California?

Dec 17, 2019

If you have suffered from verbal harassment in the workplace, you may be wondering what to do next. Can you sue your employer or boss for verbal abuse in the workplace? Or are there initial steps that you must take first? 

Definition of verbal abuse in the workplace

First, we should define what verbal abuse in the workplace is. 

What is verbal abuse at work?

Verbal abuse (also verbal attack or verbal assault) is the act of forcefully criticizing, insulting, or denouncing another person. Characterized by underlying anger and hostility, it is a destructive form of communication intended to harm the self-concept of the other person and produce negative emotions.

What is verbal harassment at work?

Similar to verbal abuse, verbal harassment in the workplace is anything said with the intention to demean, humiliate or embarrass a person at work. 

Examples of verbal abuse in the workplace

Verbal abuse at work can take many forms. A few examples of verbal abuse in the workplace and verbal harassment in the workplace include:

  • Use of offensive language
  • Threats
  • Yelling
  • Use of insults or mocking a co-worker
  • Spreading rumors 
  • Intentionally embarrassing a co-worker

Verbal abuse at work laws

While verbal harassment in the workplace is NOT explicitly illegal through current Federal or California state laws, discrimmination is illegal. 

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (or FEHA) prohibits employment discrimination based on race or color; religion; national origin or ancestry, physical disability; mental disability or medical condition; marital status; sex or sexual orientation; age, with respect to persons over the age of 40; and pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.

How to deal with verbal abuse at work

If you are facing verbal abuse in the workplace, there are a few simple steps we recommend you take immediately:

Document everything

Those little things that happen or are said often grow into a pattern of abuse. It therefore is smart to keep a record of everything that happens. Go into detail, including listing times and dates, what was going on, coworkers who may have witnessed the verbal abuse, and anything else you can think of. You should also of course record any illness, sick days used, doctor visits or treatments related to the incidents of verbal abuse. All of that information may become useful later on. 

Consider whether the verbal abuse is illegal

As we wrote above, just because something was said doesn’t mean the law was broken. There are no verbal abuse in the workplace laws, but there are discrimmination laws. Familiarizing yourself with these laws can help you determine whether what you are facing at work is actually illegal. 

Consider talking to Human Resources

If your company has a human resources department, you may want to consider bringing this issue to them. Companies want to protect themselves from lawsuits and will likely take action to make sure they are not held liable for anything.

Consult with a California discrimmination lawyer

If you have faced verbal abuse at work, talking to an attorney can be helpful. They can advise you on your case and give you a recommended course of action. The discrimmination lawyers at Rastegar Law Group have lots of experience when it comes to dealing with verbal abuse in the workplace. Contact us for a free consultation to discuss whether you should file a claim and move to legal action. 

How to report verbal abuse in the workplace

In the state of California, there are two agencies with which you may file a workplace discrimination claim. If you file a claim with one, the other is notified, so there is no need to file with both.

The two agencies are:

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH)

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing is a California based agency which covers employers with between 5 and 14 employees. Those types of companies would not fall under the umbrella of federal laws.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is the federal agency which investigates all complaints of harassment or discrimination in the workplace. They also make recommendations to employers who they determine to be in violation of state and federal employment laws. Typically, you must file a complaint with the EEOC to receive a “go ahead” to file a claim against an employer for workplace harassment.

Once you file a complaint with either the EEOC or the DFEH, they will then conduct an investigation into your claim and determine whether your employer was in violation of federal or state civil law.

If there is evidence to suggest there was a violation of these laws, they will notify both you and your workplace, as well as give recommended courses of action. You will then be able to file a private claim with the help of a California discrimination lawyer.

San Diego and Los Angeles Employment Attorneys

If you are in need of an employment attorney, contact Rastegar Law Group today for a free and confidential consultation. We work on a contingency basis, meaning we charge no fee until and unless we recover for you. You can contact us online or call us at (310) 961-9600.

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