One in five Americans face verbal abuse, harassment, unwanted sexual attention, humiliating behavior, and even threats in the workplace.

In order to prevent abuse and harassment at work, employers in California must undergo abuse and harassment training. This training clearly identifies what abusive conduct in the workplace is and how business owners and staff members can identify and report it.

But what is abusive conduct? Abusive conduct has a broad definition and California law has strict punishments for those who commit abusive acts, especially in the workplace.

Continue reading to have a better understanding of abusive conduct under California law.

What Is Abusive Conduct?

Abusive conduct is conduct toward another employee that’s malicious with intent and goes against an employer’s interests in an offensive and hostile way. 

This type of conduct can be both verbal or physical, as long the other individual finds the statements or actions threatening.

Abusive conduct is a problem for many reasons. First, it creates a hostile workplace. Second, the employee will experience fear and intimidation at the workplace, decreasing their work performance.

Examples of Abusive Conduct

Abusive conduct can be both verbal and physical. In addition, abusive conduct can be experienced digitally and on other levels where the two don’t have to be physically near each other. Here are some common examples of abusive conduct.

Verbal Abuse

Verbal abuse has many examples — it can be as basic as gossiping or as hurtful as name-calling and bullying.

Some other common examples of verbal abuse include:

  • Ridiculing
  • Slandering
  • Insulting a co-worker
  • Screaming and yelling at a co-worker
  • Belittling a colleague
  • Any other type of criticism that affects another’s job performance

In addition, verbal abuse can go a step farther into discrimination, swearing, and even threats.

Physical Abuse

Common types of physical abuse include:

  • Shoving
  • Kicking
  • Punching
  • Tripping someone

There are also little-known examples of physical abuse. Damaging or destroying another’s work area is a form of physical abuse.

While threats are usually an example of verbal abuse, some threats can turn physical. This can include intimidating and controlling behavior.

Sexual Harassment

Many actions fall under the sexual harassment realm. This includes derogatory comments, slurs, physical sexual abuse, unwanted sexual advances, demanding sexual favors from an employee, and any unwanted behavior that’s sexual and prevents an employee from fulfilling their job.

Nonverbal and Visual Abuse

Certain actions also fall into the category of nonverbal abuse. Threatening gestures, such as raising the middle finger, are a common example. You can also show inappropriate and offensive images, wear offensive clothing to the office, and even neglecting an employee is a type of nonverbal abuse.

Workplace Interference

A common yet unheard-of form of abusive conduct is workplace interference. This is when one sabotages another’s work, usually for personal and career gain.

Management can also commit workplace interference. This includes assigning menial tasks outside of an employee’s position, as a form of control or entitlement.

Cyber Abuse

This is becoming a more common form of workplace abuse. Cyber abuse is when an individual receives messages on a digital platform (social media, workplace chats, email, texting, etc.) depicting threatening, tormenting, and harassing language.

Who Are the Perpetrators?

It’s almost impossible to predict who on your staff will bully and harass employees. Abusive conduct typically happens when a staff member is trying to advance over others or a supervisor is exhibiting misuse of power.

In addition, some people just have bully tendencies, in and out of the workplace. These people may gang up on one employee or may treat a group of people with abusive actions. Sometimes, a group of employees team up and bully one or more staff member(s).

How to Deal With Abusive Conduct

Those who are victims of abusive conduct may not know how to react or deal with these threats. It’s common to become withdrawn from work and depressed. Abusive conduct may even cause employees to quit their job rather than report their abuser.

If you’re being abused in the workplace, it’s important you report the abuse. You should report the perpetrator, even if the actions were minor and even if it only happens once. This is necessary to prevent future abuse in the office.

Understand that any onlookers can volunteer to provide proof of the abusive actions.

How to Report Abusive Conduct

Anyone who believes another employee is abusing them should report them to their superiors or to HR. This also includes any onlookers of the abuse.

If the abuser is threatening you, physically harming you, sexually assaulting you, or doing anything that compromises your safety in and/or out of work, immediately call the police.

What if it’s a superior who is committing abusive conduct, such as your direct manager or even an executive? Report them to the Labor Enforcement Task Force.

Responsibilities of Employees

Employees must uphold to standards of a safe workplace. This includes not committing abusive acts but not tolerating abusive acts if a colleague is a victim. Other employees should not only report the abuse but should also do what they can to protect their colleagues and prevent future abuse.

How Employers Can Investigate Abusive Conduct

Investigating abuse isn’t always easy. You’ll first want to get statements from both the victim and the perpetrator. You’ll also want to meet with any witnesses for their statements.

View any proof from the victims or witnesses. Proof can include screenshots of emails, text messages, social media messages, work chat messages, etc. If the victim is receiving other physical evidence such as photos, you should also view those images.

From here, employers can take matters into their own hands. If the victim’s personal safety isn’t at risk, you can choose to suspend or fire the employee. When you suspend the employee, you can require that they undergo additional workplace harassment training.

If the victim’s personal safety is at risk, you may need to take legal action and call the police. You should call the police if the victim was physically or sexually abused, or they received threats that the abuse will worsen.

Preventing Retaliation

Retaliation is hostile behavior toward anyone who reports abusive conduct. This behavior can come from staff members, management, and even third party members.

Staff can also exhibit retaliation toward anyone who investigates abusive behavior and takes action against the perpetrator. 

What if you experience retaliation against a workplace abuse victim? Employers can also take action to end the retaliation and notify anyone who’s exhibiting this behavior.

What Is California Law AB 2053?

This law requires businesses with more than 50 staff members to include anti-bullying and abusive conduct training in their sexual harassment training. Sexual harassment training is a two-hour course that aims to educate and prevent sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace.

This type of training is both interactive and practical and supervisors must undergo this training once every six months and once every two years.

How to Prevent Abusive Conduct

Abusive conduct training is now included in sexual harassment prevention training, which will help educate employees on abusive conduct and how to prevent it. But employers can take further stances to ensure no staff member experiences abusive behavior.

As an employer, you can identify abusive and unacceptable behavior, holding meetings to recognize and prevent this behavior.

You can also write up an abusive conduct notice, posting it in the office and releasing it via email and/or workplace chat. Make it a point that your workplace has zero-tolerance for abuse. Your policy should also include instructions on how to report workplace abuse, bullying, and sexual harassment.

You can also promote a respectful work environment. This includes providing positive feedback, giving constructive criticism and not negative feedback, and empowering your employees rather than shaming them.

As an employer, you can also regularly check in with staff members and ensure everything is going smoothly. Always have an open ear and give your staff a comfortable place to discuss anything that’s bothering them.

In addition, business owners will give supervisors more abusive conduct training, will train them within six months of their promotion, and will train them no less than once every two years.

Unfortunately, these measures won’t completely eliminate workplace abuse and bullying. But you and your staff will be better educated and will know how to handle these situations.

Now You Understand Abusive Conduct Under California Law

Abusive conduct under California law may be difficult to understand. This is why training is required under California workplace harassment laws. Abusive conduct training is now included in sexual harassment training, ensuring supervisors and staff know how to identify and prevent abusive behavior.

Are you looking for an anti-sexual harassment training course? Our training course complies with California law, is ideal for supervisors and non-supervisors, and we even offer courses in Spanish. Take our course today!

For more definitions check out our: Glossary of Sexual Harassment Terms

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