VERBAL HARASSMENT: Meaning, Example, Workplace & Law

Verbal Harassment
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A Survey found that 30% of employees had experienced harassment on their job. The number of women who see themselves as victims are significantly greater. In that study, 78% of participants named male harassers, and 73% of those participants named their harassers as being in a position of power. This facilitates the formation of broad generalizations about harassers. The gender of the person in charge is irrelevant. This kind of harassment typically takes the form of verbal assaults in the workplace. Offensive, disrespectful, and demeaning statements and remarks made by employees to one another are unfortunately not uncommon. The issue is that some individuals excuse or fail to recognize such conduct as verbal harassment because they find it acceptable. In this article, we will look at examples of verbal and nonverbal harassment.

What is Verbal Harassment?

Verbal harassment is the use of offensive language with the intent to cause the target emotional or psychological distress. Also, verbal harassment can take many forms, from name-calling to making someone feel worthless. While verbal abuse is just as serious an offense as other forms of harassment, it is much more challenging to gather proof attesting to its existence than physical forms of harassment. If you want to file a lawsuit for verbal harassment, recording the abuse or obtaining witnesses may be your only option.

Furthermore, most social interactions require some form of communication, and most civilizations have norms about what kinds of speech are suitable in various settings. Verbal harassment is an offense against these norms since it employs words to harm a victim. In most cases, the victim understands that the abuser’s belief that he or she has the right to speak to the victim in such a manner is far more harmful than the words themselves. There are likely other interconnected factors at play in explaining why this form of harassment may be so demoralizing for its target, especially in the absence of overt threats.

In addition, most organizations have policies in place detailing how to handle this sort of harassment and what consequences may be handed out to the harasser. Yet, it may be difficult to bring charges against a person for verbal harassment if it occurs outside of the workplace. Certain forms of harassment, such as those conducted through telephone, or those involving genuine threats of violence, lend themselves to easier mitigation efforts. A restraining order can be used as a form of punishment by limiting the abuser’s contact with the victim in certain ways.

What Are Examples of Verbal Harassment?

Verbal harassment can happen everywhere, from the workplace to the comfort of one’s own home. Threats of physical harm, sexual advances, and other types of verbal abuse are all examples of civil harassment. The standard definition of civil harassment requires either physical violence or a credible threat of physical violence in order to be actionable. Any actions or statements that would cause a reasonable person to fear for his or her own or their family’s safety are considered credible threats of violence. Here are examples of verbal harassment.

#1. False Information Proliferation

The emotional toll of spreading false information is real. A person’s reputation may be tarnished, making it criminal if it meets the criteria for defamation.

Defamation is defined as “the communication of false assertions about a person that impair that person’s reputation” by Merriam-Webster. Character assassination can take the form of libel, slander, smearing, or vilification.

To give one example, someone may fabricate the circumstances around a raise or promotion. Depending on what was lied about, the victim’s reputation could take a major hit. And if enough people buy into the rumor, it can have a serious influence on the person’s professional life, including a demotion or even a dismissal.

Many victims have taken legal action against those who publish false information about them due to the harm it can bring.

#2. Utterly Inappropriate Jokes

As I said earlier, some people don’t understand that certain words constitute harassment. The same goes for humorous remarks. Surprisingly, 32% of the population doesn’t realize that jokes might be considered sexual harassment.

Employees may resort to retaliation after becoming the target of an offensive joke since not everyone is aware that some types of humor have no place in the workplace. Perhaps you have said one of these statements or heard someone else say one of them at work:

  • “You take things too seriously.”
  • “I’m only kidding.”
  • “It was just a joke!”
  • “I wasn’t being serious.”

Each of them is an attempt to lighten the situation after saying something that was inappropriate. As an alternative to admitting their incorrect behavior, individuals typically defend themselves in this way after understanding the comment was hurtful.

Of course, there are occasions when the “jokes” don’t come from a malicious place, but rather from a place of bad word choice. Workers who make such remarks, however, must still take responsibility for their actions if they later come to realize they were inappropriate. Admitting and apologizing for disrespectful remarks helps rectify the problem.

Sometimes people try to hide their harsh attitudes under humor. It’s possible that some of the staff members have malevolent intentions but try to mask it as a joke to make it look less dangerous. Nonetheless, the victim of the harassment still suffers.

Threats of violence or other physical harm coupled with verbal abuse can constitute criminal harassment. For instance, jokes cross the line from appropriate to inappropriate when management demands that workers accept insults as a condition of employment. If the behavior is so widespread that a reasonable person would find it threatening, hostile, or abusive, it is also prohibited.

#3. Intimidating and Disclosing Private Information

It’s best to keep certain things under wraps at the office. People, after all, prefer to maintain a wall between their private and work lives. Nevertheless, there are situations when details about one’s personal life or professional life are divulged on the job.

In order to apply for disability leave, a coworker may need to tell their employer about a health problem. Or perhaps a worker requests a pay increase to help out their family.

It goes without saying that this sort of information is best kept private. It would be upsetting and humiliating for the individual affected if this knowledge were to leak out in conversation. Certainly, nobody wants their employees to treat them differently because of personal issues.

It’s not proper to make such a revelation about a person in general. But it’s very rude to talk down to them. It’s likely that the person is already feeling vulnerable about these issues, and that further ridicule will just make matters worse.

#4. Social Humiliation

It’s already embarrassing to reveal private information or ask off-limits queries. But, there are other situations that can be just as embarrassing, although not involving one’s own particulars.

Let’s examine a scenario that actually exists.

Suppose you published a flyer with a misspelling that all of your clients will see. Your manager is holding a team meeting, but you have no idea why.

In the gathering, he hands out the flyer you designed and insists that you read it aloud. As you try to correct the mistake in your writing, you fumble over your own words. Feeling ashamed, you slump lower in your chair now that your colleagues know about the embarrassing gaffe you just made.

Instead of correcting you personally, your manager gives a speech to the entire workforce on the value of maintaining a positive image in the eyes of the company’s clientele. To illustrate his point, he uses you as a negative example. It’s clear that everyone in the room is annoyed with you because of the lecture that was forced upon them for a mistake that only you made. They now have a negative impression of you as an employee overall.

#5. Slurs

When directed towards marginalized groups, many common phrases can be extremely hurtful. It would be cruel to list them all here, so we won’t. Nonetheless, you have certainly encountered them before because of how frequent they are. Some typical examples include:

  • “Savage” when directed towards an indigenous or First Nations person
  • Use of the N-word when referring to people of African descent
  • Something referencing the color “yellow” when directed toward someone of Asian descent
  • Ape, half-breed, mutt, or “pale face”

These slurs are another type of verbal harassment used in the workplace. A hostile work environment is produced as a result of the emotional harm they can inflict to employees. Legal systems have the power to outlaw discriminatory language in the workplace.

Yet, other jurisdictions approach the issue of racial insults in different ways.

The N-word is considered a vile and unacceptable term by certain legal systems. They think it only takes one time for an employee to utter the N-word to make an entire workplace intolerable.

However, other courts, including the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, have ruled that a single instance of the N-word, even when combined with additional racial slurs, may not be sufficient to establish a hostile work environment.

#6. Ill Suited Sounds

I don’t mean farting or burping when I mention “inappropriate sounds” in a work environment when you and two coworkers share a cubicle. True, it could be mortifying, but sometimes you really have no choice.

The sounds I have in mind are those that are produced on purpose. One can whistle at a passerby or grimace at the sight of one’s least favorite coworker, and there are countless other examples.

The presence of certain sounds could be considered sexual harassment. These kinds of noises are harassing because they make the target feel unsafe and threatened even if the harasser doesn’t say anything.

#7. Name-Calling

Name-calling and racial slurs are both extremely insulting, but they are not the same thing. Racial slurs are defined as “words or phrases that refer to members of racial and ethnic groups in a disparaging manner.” The objective is to make ethnic minorities seem less than human.

In contrast, name-calling is defined as “the use of insulting names specifically to win an argument or to provoke rejection or condemnation (as of a person or enterprise) without objective assessment of the facts.”

It is derogatory to refer to someone as a “Boomer” (baby boomer) in order to imply that they are too old to grasp anything. Because of the negative connotation associated with the name “Karen,” it is rude to call someone by that name.

These are newer insults, however, there is a long list of names to go with them. Among the many others, these are a few you could hear discussed at the office:

  • Idiot
  • Snub
  • Ignoramus

It’s a long list. They are not always a reflection of a person’s competence or effort. It’s also possible that they’re alluding to people’s sexual orientations, religions, political leanings, etc.

Verbal Harassment Law

Even within the same city, two people may have vastly different beliefs about what constitutes suitable speech because of regional and cultural differences. For instance, while aggressively demeaning employees may be the norm in some cultures, in others it is highly upon. Some diminutives and names having racial overtones, even if they are intended to be inclusive, can have varied consequences on various listeners.

Although the individual who is being harassed may actually be trying to help, it’s crucial to express displeasure to them when they speak in a way that one finds offensive. One easy way to end verbal harassment is to simply tell the harasser why their words are harmful and politely request that they cease. The target could be physically harmed or warned with a threatening word. If someone is verbally abusing you, a threat of physical assault should be enough to stop you. Look for the attack’s keywords and employ them strategically as a weapon.

The perpetrator may face consequences such as an arrest, criminal charges, or a loss of rights. A protective order could be issued in this situation. Verbal attacks by pupils are evidence of bullying or cyberbullying in a school setting. Several types of verbal harassment may indicate that an institution is not enforcing its zero-tolerance policy and law against bullying. As a result, it appears that sexual harassment is more demonstrable than verbal harassment.

What Is the Protection Against Verbal Harassment?

According to the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, harassment is defined as unwelcome conduct directed at a person on the basis of race, religion, color, nationality, sexual preference, gender, impairment, or genetic factors, and is prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967. (EEOC).

It’s encouraging to see that most people believe their companies treat sexual misconduct seriously. Just 5% of respondents disagree, saying that their companies are not reluctant to fire CEOs or others who have been accused of sexual misconduct. If the victim must endure such treatment to keep their job or if it is so harsh that it threatens, abuses, or harasses them or others, it violates workplace norms and is illegal.

However, some states protect sexual orientation while others don’t.

  • U.S. law also shields workers who file discrimination claims, give testimony in investigations or trials involving verbal harassment, or otherwise engage in these processes.
  • If they speak out against verbal harassment in the workplace, they will be shielded by the law as well.

Bullying is hard to identify and punish since people have various tolerances for mocking, gossiping, and sexual jokes. One person may be fine with it, while another may hate going to work and be ready to resign.

It may be a warning sign if you worry about work in your free time.  Verbal harassment at the workplace can also cause higher blood pressure, remorse, embarrassment, and a desire to avoid prior hobbies.

Well-planned and executed individual employment regulation creates safe workplaces. If you own or work for a small firm, advocate and implement a decent policy to protect employees.  Every leader must prevent workplace verbal harassment by setting up a law. In addition, frequent training can help employees notice and respond to verbal harassment.

What Kind of Harassment Is Illegal?

The many forms and indicators of workplace harassment are difficult to spot, even for seasoned HR experts. It’s also difficult for many managers around the world to keep tabs on their staff’s professional behavior and conduct. One worker may think it’s fine to use slang language in everyday conversations with coworkers, while another may find it totally unacceptable and grating.

Hence, it is not always easy to determine whether or not a certain instance of harassment falls within the law. As the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) notes, a hostile work environment constitutes harassment in the workplace. 

Many human resources experts still struggle to define what constitutes a hostile work environment since it’s impossible to know what each employee thinks or to know what actions a reasonable person would consider harassment. Here is some kind of harassment that are illegal.

#1. Verbal Workplace Harassment

Verbal Harassment can be an ongoing battle that puts victims’ lives and careers in jeopardy. This form of harassment includes both verbal and physical abuse, such as insults and crude gestures. Moreover, verbal harassment is banned if it involves insults, discriminatory slurs, unpleasant jokes, or painful remarks.

Nonetheless, because it lacks the physical manifestations of other forms of harassment, it can be difficult to define what precisely constitutes verbal harassment. Nonetheless, the law prohibits verbal harassment if it causes the victim severe emotional distress.

#2.  Physical Workplace Harassment

Harassment and discrimination come in many shapes and sizes. In the workplace, physical harassment can range from minor infractions like inappropriate touching of a coworker’s hair, clothing, appearance, or skin to more serious forms of abuse including assault, threats, and property destruction, as revealed by experts. Due to the wide range of possible degrees of physical harassment, this can be a difficult thing to determine.

But, even if there is no actual physical harm, it is still illegal harassment if an employee is pushed, blocked, or pressured on a regular basis.

#3. Sexual Workplace Harassment

Sexual harassment at work is an extremely serious problem that affects a much larger percentage of employees than might initially be suspected. It’s always a crime, and it’s not something that just happens to women at work. This means that sexual harassment can be committed by people of either sex.

Sexual harassment is prohibited whether it involves unwanted physical contact, the transmission of vulgar texts and recordings, the demand for intimate favors, or the use of obscene gestures or language. Crimes like these frequently go unreported and uninvestigated, allowing the perpetrators to walk free.

Thus, if someone at work ever faces sexual harassment like this, they can tell the authorities right away.

How Do You Stop Someone From Verbally Harassing You?

By definition, verbal harassment occurs when one person causes injury to another through their words. Sometimes it’s obvious, and sometimes it’s not. Put-downs and insults, constructive criticism, loud verbal attacks, and gaslighting are all forms of verbal abuse.

Unlike physical abuse, the effects of verbal abuse can linger long after the violence has stopped. 

Let’s examine how to handle verbal harassment, whether it’s the result of someone’s behavior or a purposeful attempt to hurt you. One might respond to verbal harassment in several ways. To make progress, it’s best, to begin with, the initial step and repeat the process as necessary.

#1. Expose Abusive Conduct

The first and most crucial step in dealing with verbal harassment is to identify it as such. If it is safe to do so, you should have this conversation with the person directly. It may not be safe to call out the person who is verbally assaulting you if they are in a position of authority over you, such as a boss.

In that instance, it’s best to broach the subject with an objective third party, such as a supervisor or other superior who is not your employer.

Furthermore, you should be very specific with the person who has wronged you when you call out verbal abuse. Telling them how their words affected you and why you find the exchange unacceptable is an effective way to set the record straight.

#2. Be Specific in Your Requests for the Behavior to Stop

If you’re terrified of the person you’re asking to stop abusing you, you could be tempted to ask them nicely to quit. Yet, you should be direct and unyielding in your demands.

Saying something like, “I need you to stop saying xx because it makes me feel yy” is a direct method to tell someone to cease being verbally abusive.

A person’s ability to deny that they are acting abusively decreases as the specificity of your request increases. Keep in mind that the person being verbally abusive may not even realize they are acting in such a way.

It’s important that you’re in a secure environment where you won’t be threatened with physical harm, fired from your job, or anything else negative because of your decision to call it out, which may be an emotional or disturbing experience for them.

#3. Try to Keep Your Cool

Keeping our cool under provocation is challenging. Yet, being calm is essential while dealing with an abusive person, as showing any sign of anger or emotion might cause the other person to become even more violent.

Before you talk, if you find yourself becoming anxious when interacting with this person, try taking a few deep breaths.

#4. Avoid Interacting With the Abusers

It is human nature to desire to retaliate with hostility when we have been treated rudely. Doing so will just make the verbal harassment worse, and it will give your abuser ammunition to blame you for it. If that’s not what you want, then avoid making eye contact with the person who is being abusive.

#5. Establish Constant Boundaries

Setting limits with someone does not simply involve informing them they cannot engage in a certain behavior towards you. Consequences should accompany boundaries if they are to be effective in altering behavior, whether your own or someone else’s.

The next step in coping with verbal abuse is to set clear limits with straightforward consequences. For instance, “I will leave if you continue to treat me like that.” There is also the possibility of another. “I object to being referred to by derogatory terms. The next time you call me a derogatory name, we are done talking.” Also, read HARASSMENT IN THE WORKPLACE: Effective Ways How to Find Out and Deal With It.

#6.  Stick to Those Boundaries

When establishing limits, pick consequences you know you can follow through with. Without consistent enforcement, boundaries lose all significance.

Be as cool as possible while explaining the circumstances if your boundary is crossed. For instance, consider the following case: “I warned you that I would quit if you continued to treat me that way. I have to leave right now because you went and did exactly what I told you not to.”

To ensure your boundary is respected, you must follow through and leave after making such a statement, regardless of the other person’s pleas.

Nonverbal Harassment

In today’s society, nonverbal forms of harassment are pervasive in the workplace. It’s abusive behavior in which the abuser relies on nonverbal cues rather than words, but the results are just as severe. Negative effects can manifest in a variety of ways, including physiological and psychological distress. As a result, one’s professional life may suffer as well. Remember that nonverbal harassment is against the law and that there are mechanisms in place to stop it and punish those responsible.

What Is Nonverbal Harassment?

The term “non-verbal harassment” is used to describe situations where a person is harassed by non-verbal means of communication. Many forms of harassment exist, and they can all occur on the job or in our daily lives. Harassment can be the result of our own actions and nonverbal cues. Staring, gawking, sending unwanted photos, and physical contact are all forms of non-verbal harassment.

The vast majority of harassment and bullying are non-verbal. The subtlety of non-verbal abuse is a major cause for concern. In most cases, no one will even notice. There is a feedback loop where this leads to more silent treatment of the victim.

Types of Nonverbal Harassment

Here are some types of nonverbal harassment.

#1. Putting up Photos Without Permission

Without the subject’s permission, posting photographs of them online is a kind of nonverbal harassment. These lessons can be applied not only in the professional setting but also in personal relationships. The photo need not be of anyone in particular. Sharing photos of someone without their permission constitutes nonverbal harassment.

#2. Pictures Sent Without Request

Thanks to the widespread use of social media platforms, nowadays anyone can easily share photos with anyone else online. But, nonverbal harassment includes sending sexually explicit photos to someone without their consent. One must keep in mind that the ability to communicate images does not include the right to send inappropriate pictures.

#3. Unwelcome Physical Touch

Nonverbal forms of harassment include making unwanted physical contact of any kind. Any form of physical contact, such as touching someone’s shoulder, brushing up against them while walking, or standing too close, might be considered unwanted.

What Is Considered to Be Harassment? 

Harassment refers to offensive and humiliating conduct of any kind, whether physical, verbal, written, or otherwise, and is never acceptable in any social setting. Discrimination or inappropriate behavior of any kind can be considered harassment. Horrific behavior like this rarely stops after a single instance.


Most organizations have policies in place outlining what to do in the event of verbal harassment, including disciplinary action. Nonetheless, it might be challenging to punish an offender for verbal harassment if it does not occur in the workplace. If the harassment takes place in a more tangible form, such as over the phone, or if it is a credible threat of violence, it is easier to reduce. An injunction may be issued against the perpetrator to prevent them from contacting the victim in certain ways as a form of punishment.

Verbal Harassment FAQs

What are the 3 types of harassment?

  • Verbal.
  • Visual.
  • Physical.

What is the difference between verbal abuse and harassment?

As there is no legal distinction between the two, it can be difficult to tell the difference between verbal harassment and verbal abuse. As a noun, “harassment” specifies aggressive behavior. Mistreatment or excessive use is what we mean when we talk about abuse.

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