What is Workplace Abuse?

Jessica Ellis

Defining workplace abuse can vary from expert to expert, but most agree that it is any action that harms the emotional or physical well-being of a worker. Workplace abuse can certainly include physical violence or harassment that is physical in nature, such as inappropriate touching. Abuse often has a much broader definition, however, including threats, bullying, or verbal harassment. Often, any behavior that causes a worker to feel attacked or unsafe can be considered workplace abuse.

Workplace abuse may include bullying or verbal harassment.
Workplace abuse may include bullying or verbal harassment.

Workplace abuse is a common problem in the business world. Encountering unpleasant or even harmful behavior in the workplace is a common problem for many workers. Whether abuse comes in a physical or psychological form, it is important to understand the rights a person possesses as an employee and a human, and the responsibility of a company to protect its workers.

Inappropriate touching is a form of workplace abuse.
Inappropriate touching is a form of workplace abuse.

Verbal abuse or harassment is often difficult to explicitly describe, as to some extent it is a subjective concept. While some workers may find a joke or story harmless and funny, other workers may view it as prejudiced in some way and inappropriate for the workplace. Properly training supervisors in conflict management can help diffuse situations that end in accusations of verbal abuse. While a victim's feelings should never be disregarded, a well-trained conflict manager should be able to craft a solution that keeps everyone content.

Verbal abuse is the most common type of workplace intimidation.
Verbal abuse is the most common type of workplace intimidation.

Most countries recognize a citizen's right to a safe workplace. Harassment and abuse is no more legal or fair because it occurs in a place of business. In fact, companies may be subject to litigation if they knowingly allow workplace abuse. Before agreeing to work at a company, take a very close look at company material to see their policies regarding a safe workplace. Do not be afraid to ask questions about what behavior is and is not allowed; if the workplace allows abuse, it is better to find out prior to being injured or harmed in any way.

One form of workplace abuse that is difficult to classify is often referred to as structural or power abuse. This type of abuse occurs when a superior asks an employee to perform an illegal or unethical job by promising favors or threatening to damage the employee's standing at the company. This is a very dangerous form of workplace abuse, as it can lead to serious consequences if the employee agrees. Structural abuse should be reported to a person in charge of the abuser, as it can lead to rape, blackmail, or even jail for the employee simply trying to keep a job.

In order to reduce incidents of workplace abuse, it is important that a company has a clear and enforced policy regarding workplace safety. Some companies may enroll employees in sensitivity training or anti-violence training to ensure that every employee has a clear idea of what constitutes abuse and how it can be prevented. By stopping abuse before it starts through clear policy and training, a company can provide a safe workplace while preventing possibly costly lawsuits should abuse occur.

In a workplace setting, it's essential that all employees feel that grievances can be heard without fear of retribution.
In a workplace setting, it's essential that all employees feel that grievances can be heard without fear of retribution.

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Discussion Comments


My manager put up a holiday request sheet (as per Union orders, however it was not put up until March when it was supposed to be up in January so the schedule could be finalized by April 1st. Because if this, any requests put in at my store are first come first served so you don't find out until the week before if you got them) and then when it came time for my holidays, I found out I didn't get them. I questioned the supervisor who did the schedule who yelled at me and told me I was supposed to write it in the request book because they don't look at the sheet on the board. I've been back again and again to check if there is a note on the sheet or anywhere that says to write it in the book and there isn't.

The supervisor said she'd "take care of it" so I did end up taking my holidays, but for the rest of the week the supervisor was bitter and overall not nice to work with, and she never told me I was off the hook so I was expecting a phone call on Monday morning asking where I was. And then on top of that I came back and she was still bitter.

And then, I requested the Friday after my holidays off because I had to take my dog to get spayed and then take care of her in the evening and they booked me to work in the evening, which would be understandable, but 16 people out of 80 in the department got the day off who didn't ask for it. Isn't this some kind of abuse?


What about when your brother is your boss? He makes promises and never follows through. He threw away the only other desk and chair so I have nowhere to sit. He is rude in front of customers and is stopping me from doing my job by undermining me on everything I say in front of customers. It is embarrassing. He makes my life miserable. He takes all the credit for all the hard work. We had the best January and February in three years, but he takes all the bonuses from the company's for the sales I make in the shop and gets gift vouchers for himself, thousands over the years. I didn't get them

He makes me take vacation time when I am off sick and shouts at me. He tells me I have been off sick before this year, and I have to go through hell for days before I can get a holiday. He constantly battles with everyone saying they have taken vacation time and they have not. I started a calender. I put up and recorded holidays to protect myself and the other guys. He told me not to, that only he could, but he doesn't.

I supported him when he has had five holidays including a month -long honeymoon last year.

I am ill with worry. I will be 60 next year. I am fit and able, but he holds the business back by not doing the things he should and blames everyone else when things go wrong. I have invested part of my life in this business ,

He promised me a 10 percent share of the company and he has just gotten around to issuing the shares. He took all the acumen away and destroyed any sense of achievement by trying to making me feel undeserving. I should be grateful, not that I have worked my butt off. It's part of his company. I have not got them and he told me to get out this morning. Who do I go to?


Power abuse doesn't only occur in workplaces, it can occur in any type of institution. It happened to me at a university. I was pressured by a professor to steal information from the firm where I interned. I refused to do it and could not graduate on time for this reason. This professor was overseeing my thesis work and did not approve my thesis because I did not succumb to pressure. It's sad, but this sort of thing happens all the time. And not everyone can resist like I was able to.


@bluedolphin-- That's horrible. If an employee was the one harassing your friend, I would have advised her to speak to the supervisor or manager about it. But if it's the manager doing the harassing, then I'm not sure what can be done.

Is there a second manager that she can talk to, or perhaps the restaurant owner? There has to be something that she can do about this. If this manager is not reported for harassment, he will continue. Your friend might find another job, but other employees will still be dealing with the abuse after she leaves.


A friend of mine was abused at work by her boss. She works at a restaurant. She wasn't physically touched, but she is abused through various sexual innuendos. She is very uncomfortable working there and wants to leave but she has to find another job first. She has bills to pay so she can't just quit. She hates going to work though. She is always in tension.

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