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.
- Derogatory remarks
- Epithets or nicknames
- Unwelcome jokes
- Unwelcome personal questions
- Disparaging an individual to a client or other employees
- Flicking / poking
- 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, your company must take all employees 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.
Abusive conduct and bullying behaviors are not tied to a protected category. The abusive conduct does not necessarily need to involve a person’s race, color, national origin, gender, sexual orientation. Abusive conduct could also stem from comments on a person’s:
- Skill or talent
- Group affiliation
- Fashion sense
- Habits or tendencies
Or any other repeated disparaging behavior.