Is verbal abuse or bullying by a boss illegal?

On Behalf of | Sep 11, 2023 | Employment Law

You know that workplace discrimination and harassment based on a protected status is illegal – and California recognizes more protected classes than many states. You also know that sexual harassment is illegal.

What if your boss is just plain mean? Maybe they yell and swear at you when they’re not happy about something – which seems to be always. Maybe they insult you by calling you stupid, lazy, slow or incompetent. Maybe they’re always threatening to fire you, even though they never write you up for anything. Perhaps they’re constantly criticizing or blaming you without offering any constructive feedback or assistance.

Is there anything you can do about that if the bullying and verbal abuse don’t revolve around a protected status like gender, race or sexual orientation? What if they’re an equal-opportunity bully? They have a bad temper, and they yell at and intimidate everyone.

A hostile work environment

No one should have to tolerate verbal abuse in the workplace from a manager, colleague, customer, vendor or anyone else. It creates what’s often called a “hostile work environment,” which can be illegal. Even those who aren’t singled out for abuse can suffer if they have to listen to others being bullied and insulted. 

Anyone who has to spend the bulk of their day in a hostile environment can suffer physically and emotionally. This kind of treatment can result in:

  • Depression 
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Stomach disorders
  • High blood pressure and other heart-related problems

It can even cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), particularly in those who have suffered other traumas. It can exacerbate underlying medical issues. Of course, a bullying boss does nothing for anyone’s morale or performance.

What should you do?

If you’re working in this kind of environment, you can and should notify Human Resources or a manager other than your own (preferably someone they report to). Come armed with plenty of examples and, if possible, evidence and witnesses. Keep a record of when you reported it, to whom and what you reported. 

Then give them a chance to correct the problem. If that doesn’t work or if you suffer retaliation as a result (which is also illegal), then it’s advisable to determine what kind of legal options you have.


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