What can I do if my boss at work harasses me both physically and verbally

Employees have the responsibility to come to work ready to perform their job in a professional manner. Employers have a responsibility to create a comfortable and safe environment, which is free of physical, emotional, or verbal abuse for their employees.

Unfortunately, in a recent report by the U.S. Workforce Bullying Institute, up to 35% of workers have experienced some type of abuse or harassment on the job. Recently on our legal forum a user asked, "What can I do if my boss at work harasses me both physically and verbally?"

The United States does not have specific employment laws protecting employees from verbal abuse, but there are regulations and rules outlined by the Occupational Safety and Health Act, or OSHA, which holds owners liable for creating a safe and healthy workplace. Physical or sexual abuse can be more serious and could result in criminal charges.

What do I do if I am harassed at work?

The first step if you are abused is to notify your supervisor or human resource representative that you are being abused. If the abuse is by a fellow employee the supervisor has responsibility to notify them their behavior will not be tolerated. Most businesses will have specific policies and actions which must be followed to terminate the offender.

Unfortunately, some abuse may be perpetuated by the owner of a company, and you may not have anyone within the company with whom you can appeal. If the offense is serious enough you can hire an employment attorney and have them investigate whether the verbal or physical abuse has created a hostile work environment and impeded your ability to perform your job.

What is workplace violence?

Although violence is generally a physical assault, there are other types of violence such as intimidation or threats which can also rise to the level of abuse. For example, if another employee is throwing objects at you, destroying your property, threatening to harm you, or embarrassing, annoying, or humiliating you, you may be working in a hostile workplace setting. Physical violence can also occur at work and can include shoving, kicking, punching or hitting.

What is verbal abuse at work?

Verbal abuse can include a variety of actions such as insults, calling you names, making fun of you, ignoring you, belittling you to other workers, or gossiping about you. Verbal abuse may also take on sexual or suggestive overtones and include unwanted sexual attention such as comments or jokes.

Workplace verbal or physical harassment can also occur outside of work, including the worker who has to travel to conferences or trade shows and is harassed by another worker. Regardless of whether or not you are in your actual place of business, you have the right to feel safe.

So back to the initial question: What do you do if you are harassed by your boss? The first step is to go above them and report the incident to your company's human resource department. Find out what steps you need to take. For instance, do you need to fill out an incident report? If your boss is the owner of the company and the abuse is serious and pervasive, it might be time to talk to a lawyer.

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