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 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.
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.
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.