When one person yells at another, calls her names or continually accuses her of incompetence, it is considered verbal abuse. Verbal abuse against workers is not illegal in itself, but employers may not use these techniques to discriminate against certain employees or classes of employees. If an employer targets a particular employee for abuse, the employee may be able to sue for harassment.
Employers may not discriminate against employees who are members of protected classes. This includes being verbally abusive to employees who are members of these classes. Protected classes include those of race, religion, age, disability, national origin and, in a handful of states, sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
It is against the law for anyone to make verbal threats against an employee or co-worker. Illegal threats include threats of physical violence against the person or his family and threats to destroy his property.
While many states do not have laws against verbal abuse, employees have the right to be free of harassment. If an employer or co-worker continually verbally abuses a particular employee, the employee can claim that the employer is harassing him. Spreading rumours about a particular employee or his family is considered harassment. If the employee quits because of an employer's verbal abuse, he may be able to claim unemployment based on a "hostile working environment." Employers also may not verbally abuse, threaten or otherwise harass an employee as retaliation for the employee reporting discrimination or other illegal work practices.