What is verbal abuse in the workplace?

Written by genevieve van wyden
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Verbal abuse in the workplace is an illegal act that violates federal employment law. Employers who engage in this behaviour attack their employees, making them feel incompetent and causing real, albeit invisible, emotional and psychological damage. These effects can continue long after the abusive behaviour has been stopped.


Verbal abuse is a pattern of words, remarks or comments that emotionally and mentally isolate a person in the workplace. The abuser picks and chooses her times carefully so she her acts go undetected.


"I wouldn't let this piece of tripe leave the office--it's badly written and an embarrassment to our profession." (Actual words used by an abusive supervisor.) These are the weapons an verbal abuser uses to make his victim feel bad and as if the victim is in the wrong. (See "Verbal Abuse in the Workplace" below in Resources.)

The Abuser's Psyche

According to Cathy Hart, RN, CNM, MS, the verbal abuser, often a supervisor or manager, acts the way she does because she has low-self esteem. (See "Verbal Abuse in the Workplace" below in Resources.)

Relationship Dynamics

The abuser works to put himself in a position "over" his victim. Because this is done covertly and insidiously, the victim has no witnesses to prove what is happening--and may even be blamed by co-workers. (See "Verbal Abuse in the Workplace" below in Resources.)

The Law

A human resources office or manager can help if you are being verbally abused at work. You can also contact the EEOC or an attorney who specialises in workplace law. What your supervisor is doing is against the law. (See "Verbal Abuse in the Workplace" below in Resources.)

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