Does verbally abusive behavior constitute a hostile working environment?

UPDATED: May 22, 2012

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Does verbally abusive behavior constitute a hostile working environment?

My husband’s boss lies about him to upper management with verifiable proof in emails that he has lied, harrassed him, publicly humiliated him on conferences calls, and threatened to fire him if he doesn’t meet changing/unrealistic goals. His boss has a bad reputation in the company and has done this before. He also gave him a very hard time about medical leave when he had surgery but ultimately did not take any action against him. My husband is not a minority. HR will not help him. Is this behavior legal from an employer? He has not been able to find another job, otherwise he would quit.

Asked on May 22, 2012 under Employment Labor Law, Indiana


James Walcheske / Walcheske & Luzi, LLC

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

There is a difference between "harassment" in the general sense and "illegal harassment." What you, I, and everyone else would consider harassment doesn't always meet the legal definition.  To be protected, illegal, and actionable, harassment must be based upon a protected category.  From what you stated here, your husband is not a minority, so we can check that off the list.  However, you did note that he was hassled about medical leave.  If the harassing conduct began after his medical leave, that may connect the two.  If you husband has a medical condition and the harassment is because of that medical condition, that may also connect the two and make the harassment illegal.

Without a connection (one that can be proven by things such as comments directly about the protected category or the surrounding circumstances), it's just plain old harassment, which unfortunately there is nothing you can do about in the legal context.

Your statements that he is not in a protected category and particularly, that the supervisor has treated others in the same fashion, give me the gut reaction that he's what we call an "equal opportunity harasser," which usually doesn't get you anywhere.  

That said, I would encourage you to speak with an employment law attorney in Indiana to discuss this matter further, just to make sure there isn't something there. I can only base my answer on the brief info available here, and certainly things can be left out that would otherwise change my answer and opinion.

Regardless, I hope this helped.


James A. Walcheske

Walcheske & Luzi, LLC

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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