When Is Verbal Abuse a Violation of the California Labor Law?


Lake Forest, CA Justin is afraid to enter a Costco store due to an incident of verbal abuse that led to his termination. He worked for 18 months at Costco for Warehouse Demo Specialists (WDS) until last month. Now Justin wants to know if the abuse he was subjected to is a violation of California labor law.

It all started because Justin had to go to the bathroom. He knew the drill: try to contact the boss first and, failing that, pack up his station before leaving. “I called my boss to see if I could get a replacement but after three attempts, including texting, I gave up. I packed everything away then shut down my stand,” says Jason. “I was gone for about ten minutes. When I returned, a man was standing at my station and asked if I was Justin. Affirmative. Then he started freaking out, yelling at me that I couldn’t leave my stand, no matter how bad an emergency.”

The man yelling at Justin was Costco’s “Loss and Prevention” employee, like a security guard who was mainly employed to prevent shoplifting. He certainly didn’t have the right to tell Justin that he wasn’t allowed to go to the bathroom.

“This guy was getting louder and louder as I tried to remain calm,” Justin explains. “I said, ‘Sir, I know that verbal abuse is in violation of the California labor code and you have no right to treat me like this,’ but that got him even more irate. He accused me of not being at my station since 11am, which was ludicrous because I started work at noon. Then he left, telling me he was coming back with Jeff, the Costco manager.”

Jeff and the abusive guy escorted Justin to a security room, where another security officer was watching the store’s video cameras. Justin was told to sit down and then had more abuse hurled at him. Justin, age 27, was in this room with three big men in their 40s, - rather intimidating.

“Jeff told me that I couldn’t ‘cuss inside Costco’ and that threw me because I wasn’t the one swearing,” Justin explains. “The security guy screamed that I was a liar. All they had to do was look at their cameras - that would have shown I didn’t do anything wrong. Instead the other security guy put both arms on my armrest and within inches of my face yelled ‘You are a filthy liar, dirty liar, quit lying.’ His sweat flew into my face. I said, ‘You have to let me go and I will not talk to you again without having a labor lawyer present.’ Then he replied that I had to calm down. I left the room and phoned my WDS boss, Nahid. She said Costco is not allowed to reprimand me without one of my bosses present.

“Nahid asked me to finish the day and I agreed. But within five minutes, the security guard was mouthing threats from two aisles away. I called Nahid again and she asked him to leave. Negative. So Nahid said I could go home because it was a ridiculous situation.

“I packed up and he followed me out of the building, so again I called Nahid and said I didn’t feel safe returning to this location. That was the last time I was in Costco. I have been out of work since July 18th. WDS could easily give me a position in another Costco but I think that Costco told WDS to fire me. I loved my job; I loved giving free samples to the public.

“My complaint is wrongful termination and verbal abuse, which I think constitutes harassment. I had three men in my face yelling that I am a liar but refused to look at the evidence - the cameras. They ganged up on me to protect the security guy who was obviously having a mental meltdown.

“I am angry. I have experienced anxiety attacks and cannot go into Costco again. The loss prevention guys go to different Costco’s so I could run into him - I know he was threatening me. Ideally I want my job back and I want this guy reprimanded. Costco should be aware that this guy could potentially be dangerous.”

Unfortunately for Justin verbal abuse, like harassment, is illegal only when a person is discriminated against due to their age, disability, national origin, pregnancy, race, religion, gender or other statutes protected by state or local law, according to the California Labor Law.

As for Justin’s employer and Costco, however, they could be held liable for not providing an employee with a safe and healthy workplace under regulations from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act. OSHA states that an employee faced with verbal abuse can fairly claim that the abuse interferes with their ability to go about daily job duties. An employer can be held responsible for retaining the services of an employee who verbally abuses another employee. So Justin may just have a case.

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  1. Eloise OBrien
    February 8, 2016
    I had filed a lawsuit due to gros terrisiom, harmful and stressful unsafe workplace. in retailiation. it became hostile and I had to call campus police, in which they refused to take a report.
  2. Kenny Prater
    October 5, 2013
    I have a sales manager who verbally abuses me at work. The last incedent was him loosing his temper over a mis-spelled last name. He lost his temper and shouted that I was a "stupid mother fucker" loud enough for my customers to hear it. He has referred to me as a "stupid redneck" and makes a point of verbally abusing employees on a regular basis making it extremely difficult to do my job. Many of my co-workers have experianced similar situations, many are afraid to speak out as the G.M is fully aware of the situation and are afraid of loosing their jobs if they speak out. I'm told that I may be fired without reason needed.
  3. Olivia Salgado
    August 25, 2013
    I was a part time employee for public school for 10 years as Supervision Aide for the children during their recess and lunch breaks. I was being harassed sexually and verbally by a fellow employee. Each time I tried to complain, my supervisor acted like it was no big deal. She was present at the last verbal attack and witnessed it. I told her I couldn't take it anymore and was going to quit. She let me take the following day off. The next day at work she told me she was going to transfer me because this employee had children at our site and would not be transferring her. I can not afford the transfer and told her that I felt that I was being punished for not speaking up enough about the harassment. This employee has missed several days and was not fired. She has verbally abused other employees and those employees were transferred. I have not been able to sleep or eat. I feel physically ill every time I think of it. I had to quit. I was asked to go in to fill out some paper work and refused because I am afraid. I have perfect evaluations and recommendation letters. I did have a great reputation by many parents and children. I was told I was an at will employee and basically have no rights.

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