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Workplace Abuse Laws

The tendency of people to use aggressive, abusive behavior towards their colleagues or subordinates is known as workplace abuse or bullying. Such behavior is typically unreasonable and the aggressor may use tactics like verbal or non-verbal abuse, physical abuse, psychological abuse, humiliation, etc. leading to trauma for those at the receiving end. Often workplace abuse operates within the office policies and is perpetrated by those in managerial roles. Hostile communication that leads to conduct that is threatening or intimidating, or sabotage that interferes with an employee’s work is also workplace abuse. Below are some of the top questions on the subject answered by Legal Experts.

Mental abuse by my boss is making it unbearable to go to work. Can I get legal help?

It is important to understand that the phrase “hostile work environment” legally refers to unlawful discrimination prohibited by the federal law, which includes discrimination based on race, national origin, color, race, religion, sex, age or disability. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that laws relating to harassment and hostile work environment cannot enforce civil behavior at the workplace.

It is a general misconception that being gossiped about or being bullied at work by colleagues or bosses can lead to a viable legal claim. Unless there is proof that the harassment falls under one or more of the prohibited acts of discrimination described above, you would not be able to bring a case against your employer.

Your case does not seem to be that of unlawful discrimination but of consistent and persistent harassment by your boss who is bullying you. Perhaps the best option would be to convince your management or HR about the harassment, and if that does not work, to look for new employment.

I want to quit my job due to workplace abuse and hostile environment. Can I collect unemployment?

You may find it difficult to convince the courts that you were subject illegal harassment unless you have definitive proof of discrimination as defined by law. Often, mental harassment is difficult to prove and your employer will fight any claim for unemployment. You could speak to a local attorney to present a case to the officials at the unemployment office to decide that you were constructively terminated and that it had nothing to do with poor performance.

If a person filed a complaint and is possibly retaliated against, what rights can be exercised to prevent harassment?

Typically, retaliation laws only relate to employees engaged in to protected conduct, which includes all methods and actions used to oppose or remedy illegal workplace discrimination prohibited by law. In such cases, the employee is protected by retaliation laws as long as the conduct reported falls under the definitions of illegal discrimination, whether or not the case is unfounded. Thus, as long as the complaint is regarding illegal conduct or discrimination by the employer, it falls under protected conduct and allows a claim for retaliation.

Employees have a right to protect themselves from verbal and non-verbal abuse at workplace by pressing criminal charges against the abuser. If an employer terminates an employee for reporting abuse, he/she can sue the employee on grounds of wrongful discharge and retaliation.

Your state’s department of labor will help you find methods to remedy the situation at your workplace. You may have a stronger case and a better chance of your claim being taken seriously if your colleagues also join in to report workplace abuse.

What is the legal recourse for a victim of workplace bullying/harassment with an effort to defame?

While, workplace abuse or harassment in itself may not be illegal under any federal or state law, you may still be able to file a case for defamation which is an independent tort claim that you would file in your own state court. A legal claim for defamation has certain requirements where you would have to prove that the statements made against you were made as “statements of fact”, that they were made to third parties and that they caused you some harm.

In several cases, especially when employees are not protected, the harassment is so severe that it can lead to medical issues. If you experience any such medical issues, you may be able to claim worker’s compensation.

Most workplace aggression or abuse is characterized by repetition, where it occurs regularly; is over a long duration; increases with time; is done intentionally and occurs where there is power disparity. Unlike other forms of harassment, like sexual harassment for example, there are no defined laws against workplace abuse or harassment. It is important to find methods within existing laws to bring a claim against the aggressors or the company. Speaking to Legal Experts may help you in this regard.
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