When most people think of workplace abuse, they think of verbal abuse in the workplace. Whether it comes from a superior, peers or even clients, this can be disruptive in the workplace. In fact, as many as 30% of employees experienced bullying on the job in 2010 according to a survey by the U.S. Workforce Bullying Institute. However, not everyone reports workplace bullying.
There are many types of this type of abuse. For example, it can center around the quality of work and performance or it may come as a personal attack on your appearance, preferences, sexual orientation or even gender. Because of this, workplace abuse may tie into discrimination based on gender (sexism) or sexual orientation (homophobia or biphobia).
Some common types of verbal abuse include:
- Direct insults
- Comments about appearance, weight or clothing
- Blaming the victim
- Patronizing the victim
- Sexual remarks
- Controlling comments and behavior
- Insults about intelligence or capability
Insults around work performance may also be an abuse of powers in the workplace. When someone’s superior constantly complains that work is not done on time or to the right specifications even when an employee has followed all instructions, it may have less to do with the work and more to do with the boss. Bullying at work, just like bullying in any other situation, is often a way for one person to make himself feel better at the expense of another person. No matter how the putdowns are issued, the result is the same. The victim of bullying loses confidence and self esteem while the perpetrator gains a temporary sense of self confidence.
Verbal abuse may accompany physical abuse — hitting, spitting, pinching, pushing — and various types of sexual abuse from suggestive language to unwanted touching. However, verbal abuse can occur even when there are no signs of other abuse.
Employers that do not have a proper reporting and resolution system or work cultures that actually condone or encourage workplace abuse may experience a higher rate of turnover. After all, who wants to work at a place where they are not protected from harmful comments? Even in states or countries where laws exist to protect employees from exactly this type of behavior, employees may find themselves with the implied threat that this behavior comes with the work and that they may not have job security or qualify for promotions if they speak up.
Fortunately, the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission in the United States bars abuse and discriminatory treatment based on a variety of factors including:
- Sexual orientation
Employees should first attempt to resolve abuse in house through the Human Resources department. Victims of bullying can build a case by tracking abusive comments and behavior. Recordings or witnesses and statements of witnesses can help to create a stronger case and paint a pattern of behavior when approaching HR.
If this is unsuccessful, victimized employees can create a case through the EOCC. Filing a charge known as the Charge of Discrimination is a required step before filing an employment discrimination lawsuit, which may result in financial repayments to the victim of bullying in the workplace. Organizations also exist to help individuals file and proceed through a charge of discrimination.
Substance Abuse in the Workplace
Unfortunately, abuse of coworkers is not the only type of workplace abuse that takes place. Drug abuse in the workplace is not only disruptive to coworkers, but it can also put a person’s life in danger.
Harsher drugs such as cocaine, heroin, LSD (acid) and other illegal substances) aren’t the only drugs that people may abuse. Even recreational drugs such as alcohol and marijuana, which are legal to persons over a certain age and in specific doses in many places can become addictive and cause problems at work.
Nearly 50 million people have abused prescribed medication including pain killers, central nervous system (CNS) depressants and stimulants during their lifetime according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Prescription drug abuse can start as young as age 12 and may be extend from legitimate use of medication that has addictive properties. Commonly-abused medications include:
Of course, any person who reports to work while under the influence of a substance, legal or otherwise, is risking his life and the life and livelihood of others. This is especially true for drug abusers who work with machinery or vehicles, which are illegal to operate under the influence.
However, a person doesn’t have to have drugs in his system to disrupt flow in the workplace. For example, someone who arrives to work with a hangover from a party the night before will have difficulty concentrating and may make simple errors. Similarly, someone who leaves early, takes excess breaks or uses work resources to procure marijuana, alcohol, prescription medication or other illegal drugs is a hindrance to work.
Often times, drug addicts will try to sell or purchase drugs at work, which is one way that their addictions become apparent to those around them. Similarly, employees may steal items from work to sell or trade to pay for their addictions. In fact, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence estimates that drug abuse in the workplace costs employers $81 billion annually.
Employers have been able to detect and help resolve some issues of drug dependence by administering drug tests to their current and prospective employees. NCADD recommends Employee Assistance Programs, or EAPs, as a way to help employees resolve substance abuse issues, especially alcohol dependence.
Federal organizations and laws enable both employers and employees to remain protected when their are issues of substance or verbal abuse in the workplace. However, it’s up to employees to stand by those policies and laws and employees to speak up when they witness otherwise for those methods to be effective. Through efforts on both sides, the office can become a safe place for everyone who works there.