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Abusive Conduct and Bullying

Many states forbid abusive conduct and bullying in the workplace. In all cases, abusive conduct is unethical and unprofessional. It may expose you and your company to criminal and civil penalties.

Abusive conduct includes behavior with a malicious intent that is hostile, offensive, threatening, intimidating, humiliating, or sabotaging. This can include both verbal and physical abuse.

Verbal abuse:

  • Derogatory remarks
  • Insults
  • Epithets or nicknames
  • Unwelcome jokes
  • Unwelcome personal questions
  • Disparaging an individual to a client or other employees

Physical abuse:

  • Hitting
  • Touching
  • Flicking / poking
  • Tripping
  • Practical jokes

Abuse by omission:

  • Leaving an individual out of an important meeting or e-mail chain
  • Ignoring the individual even though the abuser is required to work together with that employee

This list is by no means exhaustive.

The standard for abusive conduct is what a “reasonable person” would find to be hostile, offensive, threatening, intimidating, or humiliating. This provision for a “reasonable person” gives room for interpretation when the victim is especially sensitive or easily offended. Regardless, all employees should be taken seriously when they make complaints of abusive conduct.

A single incident of abusive conduct does not necessarily create a hostile workplace. Some single abusive comments are a joke pushed too far, an unwise comment, or a misstep. They can be remedied with an apology, coaching and re-education, and a promise not to repeat similar behaviors. But if the abusive conduct continues, it does create a pattern of abuse that leads to a hostile workplace and hurts employees.