Everything You Need To Know About Workplace Intimidation (Is it legal?)

Nothing makes a workplace toxic like workplace intimidation. When your employer or colleague subjects you to bullying or other forms of coercion, you are left with no option but to resign. What then is Workplace intimidation, and how can you curb it?

So, what is workplace intimidation?  Workplace intimidation, also referred to as workplace bullying, occurs when a superior, colleague, or subordinate employs physical threats or violence, verbal abuse or blackmail to manipulate an organization’s employee for some professional benefit. It is usually a recurring issue, creating a pattern of mistreatment that can significantly affect the mood, mental, and physical health, as well as the productivity of an employee. (We already wrote on 25 factors that affect Employee productivity.Opens in a new tab.)

There are no two bullying incidents in a workplace that is identical. The difference is usually based on the business nature, and what the work environment looks like. Some notable instances of workplace intimidation include but not limited to:

  • 1. Physical violence or threats

  • 2. Screaming or yelling

  • 3. Insult or ridiculing a subject in the presence of a client or coworkers.

  • 4. Hostile physical posturing

  • 5. Deliberately assigning duties outside a subject’s expertise.

  • 6. Taking credit for a subject’s work

  • 7. Sabotaging the work of a victim or setting him or her to fail

  • 8. Raising the bar for achievement or establishing different standards for the victim.

  • 9. Interference in work or in the ability to work.

Can Workplace Intimidation be Classified as Illegal?

Not all types of workplace intimidation are outlaw.  For instance, Bullying behavior will be termed ‘illegal’ based on what is done, and sometimes, the motives behind the actions could be considered. Nevertheless, there are points when workplace intimidation becomes illegal, as in criminal behavior.

Criminal Assault

Physical assault is considered a crime. This is dependent on the specific terms of the respective state’s penal code, a bully in a work environment can be prosecuted for kicking, hitting, poking, tripping, or otherwise injuring you. Some states made provisions for charges relating to offensive touching( physical contact a sane person will likely object to), or verbal assault, which leads to significant emotional injury. Threats of assaults may sometimes attract criminal penalties. You are required to speak with the police directly by most jurisdictions if you have experienced any form of threats or physical assault.

Sexual harassment

A physical or verbal assault based on gender or sex can violate both state and federal laws as touching sexual harassment. A one-time occurrence may not weigh much in establishing a cause of action. Notwithstanding, the more frequent, or severe the conduct, the more chance to complain to the Federal Court or Equal Employment Opportunity Commission(EEOC). An employment lawyer can assist in determining if there is a claim and how to preserve it.

Illegal Discrimination in the Workplace

Workplace intimidation based on a protected characteristic of the targeted worker can be classified as illegal workplace discrimination. This applies to behaviors based on:

  • – Color
  • – Race
  • – Sex or gender
  • – National origin
  • – Religion
  • – Age
  • – Disability

If a boss makes employment decisions like job assignments or permits employees to be hostile or create a hostile environment based on the criteria listed above, you are eligible to complain to the Federal Court or EEOC. Rules regarding reporting of workplace assaults vary based on your employer’s workplace policies. This is irrespective of protected trait involved or whether you are a member of a union.

What Can I DO If Workplace Intimidation Is Not illegal?

In case your situation does not warrant a punishment with regards to any criminal or EEOC provisions, you can still stop workplace intimidation. Employers have been encouraged by the Department of Labor to design anti-bullying policies that guarantee the protection of workers’ mental and physical wellbeing. Big-sized organizations have more approaches that can be taken to report internal cases of intimidations than the smaller ones.

In a situation where your workplace does not comply with anti-harassment policies, you can sue your employer in a federal or state court stating a breach of contract claim. The argument here is that your employer failed to protect you from have promised to do so. The claim is dependent on the tone of the company policy or employee handbook.

The legality surrounding workplace harassment is very dicey. For instance, bullying or intimidation of whistleblowers or individuals protected under anti-discrimination laws are prohibited by the Federal Law; meanwhile, not all form of harassment is considered illegal. Nevertheless, some states provide employees with widened protections against intimidating co-workers and colleagues.

Protected categories

Bullying or intimidation of workers is prohibited by Federal anti-discrimination provisions on age basis (40 and above), national origin, race, sex, disability or religion. What this means is that EEOC can prosecute cases of intimidation relating to a hostile workplace masterminded by managers, company owners, employees, or non-employees. Victims of bullying and other colleagues affected by workplace intimidation can sue their employer for its relaxed attitude in addressing or stopping the intimidation.


There are federal protections for whistleblowers against employer retaliation. Any employee who has reported a misconduct or intimidation incident are protected against hostile work environment situations.

Criminal Acts Against Workplace Intimidation Victim

In some situations, workplace intimidation could be intense, taking the form of illegal activity against the target. This includes theft or vandalism of the target’s properties, sexual abuse, the threat of violence, or physical battery. When situations get to this level, it is crucial for targets to report and request police intervention quickly or call 911. They should do what they feel is required to be safe. A police report will also be valuable evidence in case the target wants to apply for unemployment benefits or pursue a legal course against the abuser or employer.

State and Local Laws

Federal laws offer limited protection against workplace intimidation. However, some state and municipalities already passed laws that expanded categories or sections where bullying is illegal or prohibit it entirely.

Unemployment Compensation

This compensation is designed for those who have lost jobs due to fault not caused by them. In some cases, those who voluntarily quit jobs can also claim this benefit. Notwithstanding, some states provided and acknowledged that harassment, intimidation, or bullying in the workplace constitute a tenable discharge. It means the workplace is so toxic for employees to work safely. In these situations, employees have the opportunities to claim compensations.


An intimidated employee who chooses to quit his or her job should be aware that the former employer may challenge a claim relating to unemployment. Thus, the victim should be ready to file his claim with an unemployment agency or referee who is in the best position to examine whether the application is genuine. The appeals could sometimes take weeks or months to complete, but he or she should be willing and ready to support himself or herself while awaiting approval of compensation.

What are the Consequences of Workplace Intimidation?

The effects of intimidation at the workplace could be severe for victims.  A lot of targets have reported experiencing stress, usually associated with physical symptoms such as insomnia, digestive problems, and high blood pressure. The victims could also be depressed, anxious, and exhibit low self-esteem. Some bullies can spread false information or gossip about the victim, to injure the person’s industry and workplace reputation. This has been discovered to reduce the employee’s productivity. (Read our article on What is Workplace Productivity and How can You Enhance Employee Productivity?Opens in a new tab.)

The victim risks termination of employment as soon as his or her productivity begins to drop. This could cause a catastrophic consequence on his or her career, as there will undoubtedly be difficulty getting a new job without a positive recommendation from a former workplace or colleagues.

Another effect of workplace intimidation is a reduction in morale as far as the worker is concerned. Employees who are not the targets may stay in observation of events, and try as much as possible to avoid a bully. As time goes on, a toxic intimidation culture can override the workplace. Efficient employees will quickly resign to save their reputation and career. This can affect the organization in the long run.

What are Employer’s responsibilities?

Employers both have a moral and legal responsibility to discourage, prevent, and address workplace harassment, bullying, and intimidation. Anti-harassment endeavors, for instance, would include proper human resources procedures that forbid intimidation and creates a pleasant environment for whistleblowing. Both employers and employees can collaborate proactively to establish an atmosphere of respect. It should be clearly stated in the employee’s handbooks what intimidation is and the company’s approach in prosecuting offenders.

What are Employee’s Strategies?

Intimidation can go bad over time. This is because an offender tests his or her victims to see the reactions. If the victim does not seek assistance from HR, the bully might intensify efforts and try to bully others.

Workers who are intimidated at work should take responsibility. A polite push-back when a demeaning comment is made or a quiet confrontation about intimidating conduct can discourage a bully. If these do not work, or the offender is a manager or supervisor, discussing with a Human Resource Personnel is not out of the question. If this fails too, pursue another job might be a good option.

Related Questions

Is Workplace Intimidation Illegal?  Not all forms of intimidations are prohibited by Federal laws. Nevertheless, state laws prohibit entirely different kinds of workplace intimidations.

What are the consequences of Workplace Intimidation?  The effects of intimidation at the workplace could be severe for victims. Victims have reported stress, anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem.

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