The Consequences of Workplace Abuse and What Employers Should Do About It

Workplace abuse is a serious issue that can have consequences for everyone involved. An estimated 48.6 million Americans are bullied at work. Here are some facts about workplace abuse, how to prevent it, and how to handle cases when they arise.

What Is Workplace Abuse?

Workplace abuse is a form of bullying, which means it’s not just physical abuse but also psychological and emotional abuse. Workplace abusers can be directed at one person or a group of people. They can be overt—such as yelling at employees in front of others—or covert, such as saying nasty things about an employee to other coworkers behind their backs.

It’s not just the same-level colleagues. It’s actually the seniors and management staff who do this.  According to data from the 2021 Workplace Bullying Institute’s U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey, 65% of bullying is done by seniors and managers. Someone intentionally abuses power over another person or group of people. However, it often happens unintentionally because the abuser doesn’t realize they’re making someone else feel bad.

Legal Liability

The most apparent legal liability for employers is the possibility of being sued by the victim. You could be held responsible if you allow workplace abuse and don’t take action to prevent it. If you take action but fail to punish the abuser appropriately, even that could lead to a lawsuit. Bullying costs American employers hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars annually.

For example, if your employee comes to work with bruises on their body every day and you do nothing about it, they may sue you for failing to protect them from harm or suffering emotional distress due to the abuse at home. This can lead to lawsuits, impacting your finance and brand’s reputation. Once the reputation is down and it becomes public that you don’t do anything about workplace abuse, most talented and skilled people will refrain from joining your workforce.

The Psychological Toll

As you can imagine, workplace abuse has many psychological consequences for the victim. These include:

  • Feelings of isolation and loneliness
  • Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
  • Lack of self-esteem or self-worth

All these workplace abuse problems can lead to anxiety. The victim may also experience physical symptoms such as headaches, lack of appetite, and sleep problems. He or she might have difficulty concentrating on tasks at work and may even have trouble generally functioning outside of work hours.

Employers need to recognize these signs to help identify abusive behavior before it becomes too severe. The symptoms are similar for abusers as well. They often experience guilt after an episode of abuse (even if it was only verbal), low self-esteem, and feel that their behavior isn’t acceptable in society (again, even if their actions didn’t cross any legal lines).

How Employers Should Respond

For employers, the best way to prevent workplace abuse is to have an employee handbook that clearly defines unacceptable types of conduct, which can be held accountable for those actions, and how employees should report it. If a company doesn’t have such a handbook, it should create one as soon as possible.

Employers must also take steps to punish offenders and protect victims from retaliation by their colleagues or supervisors. This means providing employees with the proper resources and mechanisms to report incidents. Only 50% of victims report harassment to their employers. This is partly because they don’t know what to do or who to talk to. The more companies can do to educate their employees about the resources available, the greater chance there will be for them to report inappropriate behavior.

Take Care of the Victim

The first thing you need to do is take care of the victim. The victim was mistreated and probably felt various emotions, including anger, sadness, and guilt. They need to know that it was not their fault and that they did nothing wrong. They also need to know that you are there for them and will help them through this difficult time.

Make sure your resources are available for the victim. Counseling services, medical support, and legal assistance are all vital to helping your employee through this type of situation. If you do not currently have access to these resources, then it is time to find them, especially counseling.

Counseling allows victims to open communication about the incident. This will help the emotions come out and make the victim feel much more relaxed. Additionally, the counselor will also be able to share tips and guidance on how to cope with the incident. You can look for professional counseling firms like Ezra Counseling and collaborate with them. Such firms have expertise in counseling services that specializes in workplace violence and can help you with all of your needs.

Hold Everyone Accountable

The first step in combating workplace abuse is to hold everyone accountable, not just the abuser but also the people who allowed all of it to happen. To do this, you must be thoughtful about who you punish and why.

For example, instead of punishing a senior who did the bullying alone, punish the manager who was informed about it but did nothing to prevent it. The manager was likely a bystander at best and may have been actively covering up or making excuses for their co-worker’s behavior all along.

Punishing them both will communicate that you are serious about workplace abuse and won’t allow it at all costs.


Workplace abuse can lead to a toxic workplace environment. Such toxic workplace culture is 10.4 times more likely to lead to resignation. Hence, employers need to take steps to prevent it and punish offenders. However, it is a two-way thing as even employees need to do their part in reporting the abuse.

Employees should report abuse to their employer as soon as they start experiencing harassment or discrimination. On the other hand, employers may want to create policies that outline how employees should report abuse and what happens when someone does report an incident of workplace abuse.

Workplace abuse can happen anywhere, but employers can take steps to prevent it and punish offenders. If you think your workplace may be prone to this behavior, it is highly advised that you implement policies and practices that promote a safe work environment.

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