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What Can Employers Do If An Employee Verbally Offends Another Employee?

What Can Employers Do If An Employee Verbally Offends Another Employee?

Bloodworth Law partner and attorney J. Kemp Brinson is a Florida employment law attorney who addresses the question: what can employers do if an employee verbally offends another employee?

Discrimination, Harassment, Hostile Work Environment

Kemp explains that depending on, and in order for a claim of discrimination or harassment in the form of offensive comments to be viable, the comments have to create what is called a hostile work environment.

Severe & Pervasive in Work Environment

Kemp said that a hostile work environment isn’t simply one or two negative comments. A hostile work environment generally has to be severe and pervasive.

“To describe the types of things that would rise to a legal claim against a company,” Kemp said, “there would have to be more than just one or two discriminatory or harassing comments.

Address Issues Immediately

“However, in order to prevent one of those situations from becoming an actionable claim, it’s very important that an employer — when they find out about things, find out about adverse conduct that is making anyone uncomfortable in the workplace — that they address it immediately.

Employer Obligated To Make It Stop

Kemp said that “the obligation when an employer finds out about acts of discrimination or acts of harassment on the basis of — whether it’s sexual orientation, or gender identity, or anything else prohibited by law — the employers have an obligation to make it stop.”

Not Appropriate And Not Putting Up With It

Kemp explains that “it’s important the employer clearly establish that ‘this type of language, this type of conduct towards coworkers, is not appropriate and ‘we’re not going to put up with it. And we’re either going to discipline you, or, if you do this again, or, we have further complaints, we are going to discipline you.’

“There’s nothing specifically prohibited or specifically allowed while reprimanding an employee who may have said something to offend another employee, but any of the traditional forms of discipline could apply,” Kemp said. That may mean:

  • A verbal warning
  • A written warning
  • A verbal counseling
  • A suspension
  • A demotion

Employer Reprimand Depends On Incident Severity

The reprimand can depend on the severity of the incident, and how often this type of thing has occurred in the past.

“Basically, what the law requires of you is to do what is reasonably necessary to make sure that your employees are not subjected to a hostile work environment,” Kemp said.

Level of Discipline Matches What’s Been Done

“A progressive discipline situation is typically the way these types of things should be handled. Making sure that the level of discipline matches what’s been done.”

Kemp explains that because somebody says one bad thing doesn’t necessarily mean that the employer has to fire them.

Employers Must Counsel and Document

But the employer — depending on the severity of what the employee said — should probably at least counsel that employee and document that they counseled that employee.

Potential For A Future Claim?

“If they’ve done nothing, that could give rise to the potential for a claim in the future, if that conduct gets worse and rises to a sufficiently severe and pervasive level to be considered a hostile work environment,” Kemp said.

To find out if what is occurring between your employees is considered “a hostile work environment” at your company, you’ll have to speak to an experienced employment litigator.

**Do Not Use This Article As An Example**

Attorney L. Reed Bloodworth is Founder and CEO of Bloodworth Law. The Orlando and Winter Haven law firm handles employment litigation when Florida employers are facing federal and or state discrimination or harassment disputes with employees.

The Bloodworth Law employment law team notes that “every discrimination claim, every harassment claim is different. Details are unique, so you can’t read online or use comments made in this article, for example, and attach it to your employment situation.”

Talk with Reed and the Employment Law Team attorneys to find out how Bloodworth Law can help you, your employees, or your business.

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