iStock 953656254 1

Can Verbal Conduct Create a Hostile Work Environment?

By Thomas McKinney

Harassment in the workplace can take a number of different forms. If you are suffering from actions that have created a hostile work environment, you may be able to seek redress by bringing a claim for workplace harassment. Such offensive actions often include verbal conduct. Even seemingly innocent remarks can make a person uncomfortable enough that they feel alienated and demeaned in the workplace. Let’s take a closer look at verbal conduct that may create a hostile work environment.

Can Verbal Conduct Create a Hostile Work Environment?

Verbal harassment or abuse can create a hostile work environment. It can occur in the workplace at the hands of an employer or a co-worker. If the company does nothing to stop such behavior, it could be held liable for the detrimental impacts it has on an employee.

Verbal harassment includes saying things that are either offensive or demeaning. Alternatively, the words could be belittling or threatening. While verbal harassment is sometimes referred to as a microaggression, it is still a big deal and should be taken seriously by employers. A microaggression is something like a small comment that may seem fairly innocuous, but creates a hostile environment for the employee targeted by the comment as well as other employees.

It is important to note that verbal harassment need not be overt. It may be an off-color joke made to a general audience in the workplace. If an employee feels inadvertently targeted and insulted by the joke, however, it could still count as verbal harassment. One poorly landed joke may be unlikely to be seen as creating a hostile work environment. Generally, there must be an established pattern of harassment, verbal or otherwise, to rise to the level of creating a hostile work environment.

If an employee has experienced verbal harassment in the workplace, they can bring a claim seeking redress for the harm suffered from working in a hostile work environment. A claim of verbal harassment, however, can be difficult to prove. There are so many nuances to verbal conduct. Tone of voice, for instance, can be both important and difficult to prove when bringing a verbal harassment claim. It is often the case where verbal harassment is included in with another, more serious charge. Instances of verbal harassment can, for instance, be used to establish a person’s pattern of inappropriate and offensive workplace behavior.

If you bring a successful claim for verbal harassment that has created a hostile work environment, you may be entitled to compensatory damages for things like wages, back pay, and benefits you missed out on due to being unable to work. Other remedies may include reinstatement to a position you formerly held. The perpetrator of the verbal harassment may also be terminated from employment. Sometimes, in the rarest of cases, you may be awarded punitive damages if an employer intentionally engaged in behavior that created a hostile work environment.

Employment Law Attorneys

If verbal conduct in the workplace has made going to work unbearable, talk to the dedicated employment law team at Castronovo & McKinney about your options. Contact us today.

About the Author
Tom McKinney is an experienced NJ Employment Lawyer in all major areas of labor and employment law, including discrimination, harassment, overtime violations, wage and hour claims, sexual harassment, wrongful discharge, Title VII, ADA, ADEA, FMLA, LAD, FLSA, and all other employment law claims. Tom is admitted to practice in the States of New Jersey and New York, United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Southern District of New York, District of New Jersey, and United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Prior to forming the firm, Tom practiced at Gibbons P.C. in Newark, NJ. If you have any questions regarding this article, contact Tom here today.