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Insult: definition, consequences, reaction

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"Mr. President, with all due respect, you are an asshole!" - One hears such an insult even in the Bundestag. For example from Joschka Fischer. The workplace is no exception. Insults are not uncommon here either. Sometimes it is colleagues who are insulted, sometimes the boss is treated with bad words. It is understandable that emotions are boiling up. If there is a gross insult in the job, however, there is a risk of serious consequences: Admonition, warning or dismissal can result. But what counts as an insult? What should you do if you are offended at work? Here are the answers…

➠ Content: This is what awaits you

➠ Content: This is what awaits you

What is an insult?

Not every outrageous remark is necessarily an insult. Even if you feel offended by a testimony, it does not necessarily justify going to court. In your job, too, you should therefore first consider whether it is actually a real insult. A definition that is as precise as possible is helpful here.

The courts regularly consider an insult to be a statement or behavior that may attack or harm the honor of another.

Objectivity is important in this context. An uninvolved listener or viewer should regard the behavior or the comment as a defamation. A purely subjective feeling, however, is not enough. Legal regulations can be found in several places in the Criminal Code (StGB). A distinction is made between:


The criminal law sees an insult given when the honor of another is violated by words, deeds or even gestures. The so-called announcement is also important. This means that the insult can actually be perceived. Cases in which another language is spoken are therefore controversial. If it is an insult, there is a risk of criminal prosecution. Paragraph 185 of the Criminal Code provides for up to one year imprisonment or a fine in the event of an insult, and in connection with "assault" such as spitting on, two years imprisonment can even be threatened. In contrast to the following forms, the insult takes place directly against the person concerned.


Section 186 StGB provides a similar level of punishment for cases in which people can be shown to tell the untruth about other people in order to make them "contemptible". Defamation can mean a year imprisonment or a fine if it is done in small groups. If writings are distributed or if they happen in public networks, imprisonment can be up to two years.


Section 187 of the Criminal Code doubles the sentence if someone knowingly spreads lies about a person that are likely to discredit them. Here a convicted person can expect up to two years imprisonment or a fine. If these untruths are disseminated or published, imprisonment for up to five years can result.

When is an insult punishable?

On the one hand, it is difficult to objectively assess the exact damage in the event of insults. Insults are usually clear when clear swear words are used that directly offend the recipient. On the other hand, there are numerous examples covered by the Anti-Discrimination Act. Insults are therefore punishable ...

  • aiming at the origin.
  • aiming at sexual identity.
  • aimed at a disability.
  • aiming at the (supposed) political conviction.

What many people wrongly record under free expression of opinion, violates human dignity if someone wants to deliberately degrade the person being insulted. Not only expressions from the fecal language are therefore punishable, but also gestures such as the extended middle finger or the "bird pointing".

Important factors for insults in the job

Bad words are sometimes used in professional life. It could be said that this is done in the heat of the moment, but there is no place for insults in the job. However, there are several factors that play a role in evaluating a job insult:

  • Tone of voice: How are each other generally dealt with in the respective industry and in the team? There are certainly different customs in the building sector than in a bank. What is seen as a coarse tone here is perhaps a completely normal conversation on a construction site.
  • prehistory: Do the employees involved have friction from time to time or did one colleague provoke the other before the insult was pronounced? Of course, this does not justify any insult, but it explains the circumstances better.
  • shape: Is there evidence of the insult? Was it written down as an e-mail, text message, or in some other way, or did the insults take place verbally on the job?
  • Witnesses: Are there people who can testify to the insult or did it take place in a one-to-one conversation? If no one else has heard the insult, it is difficult or even impossible to prove it in retrospect.
  • frequency: Was the insult the first incident of this kind or has the employee been noticed by similar behavior? A one-off incident can already have consequences, but at the latest when it comes to repetition, the colleague clearly seems unable to control himself.

The exact circumstances must always be considered in each individual case. According to the courts (Landesarbeitsgericht Schleswig-Holstein, AZ 4 Sa 474/09 and Landesarbeitsgericht Rheinland-Pfalz, AZ 2 Sa 232/11), individual insults such as "asshole" do not justify termination, while the combination of verbal insult and pointing of the middle finger can justify termination.

Consequences of an insult

If a colleague insults the other in the workplace, it can seriously disrupt the peace of the company. Superiors are therefore particularly encouraged to take action against such behavior by individual employees as soon as they hear about it - for several reasons. If the employee is allowed to continue insulting his colleagues undisturbed, he could feel confirmed in his behavior and only make it more colorful. In addition, the employer has a duty of care towards his employees and for that reason alone must endeavor that the insults in the workplace are stopped immediately.

But what consequences can an insult in the workplace have from a labor law perspective? There are two main ways of dealing with the offense of an employee:


An insult in the job is always a reason to warn the employee. With this, the boss says very clearly: Such behavior is no longer tolerated in our team and the behavior was a one-time slip - otherwise further labor law steps will follow in the event of another insult.

Termination without notice

Insults are always a violation of the obligations under the employment contract, which is why in particularly serious cases they can also mean termination without notice. According to the law, this is possible if a continuation of the employment relationship is unreasonable. However, this is always an individual decision. Very serious insults or (verifiable) frequent repetitions of insults can often justify termination without notice. The Rhineland-Palatinate Regional Labor Court, for example, also decided this (judgment Az .: 4 Sa 350/15).

What can I do if I am insulted?

If there is a colleague in your company who insults you and / or other employees over and over again, you should resist it. The one who utters the insults must realize that he cannot go on like this easily.

  • Find the dialogue
    This may seem difficult after being insulted, but the first step is to try to have a quiet conversation. Sometimes an insult is pronounced but meant less badly. Sometimes the colleague is also not aware that his words were offensive. Explain your point of view and ask why the colleague was offensive to you. Some conflicts can already be resolved in this way.
  • Keep your distance
    If the efforts don't get you any further and the situation threatens to escalate, you should avoid your colleague as much as possible. Open disputes in the workplace and team conflicts are rarely promising. You will probably not be able to avoid working with your colleague from time to time. But there are also ways and means in the project group to avoid the offending colleague. Pick another team or pick a task unrelated to theirs. At least you don't have to work hand in hand.
  • Keep a record
    Write down as precisely as possible when and with what words the colleague insulted you. If there were any witnesses, be sure to list them. With well-kept documentation, you have clear arguments to complain to your manager about the employee's behavior. And in the event of a court hearing, the bullying diary is also useful.
  • Contact your manager
    Whatever you do, the insults from your colleague will not decrease. Then there is only one way out: you have to contact your supervisor. But don't go into this conversation unprepared. Gather evidence (your records from above) and, if possible, witnesses or other stakeholders who can confirm the insults. If your company has a works council, you can also inform them about the employee's behavior. The works council may be able to mediate before the conflict escalates further.

If the employer does not comply with his duty of care and does not take action against the insult of the colleague, you can even be entitled to compensation for you. In addition, you also have the right to terminate the employment relationship without notice in order to escape the situation.

Smart and funny insults and sayings

Finally, we have listed some rather funny insults. However, please do not take this as an invitation to throw insults around yourself at work. Rather, they should be viewed with a twinkle in the eye.

  • It was a lesson to me to have met you.
  • I think it's good that you don't care about fashion.
  • YOU can wear this!
  • You are unique - at least we all hope so.
  • I could agree with you now, but then we'd both be wrong.
  • We will probably miss you. Still, we'd like to find out.
  • A little idea would do your opinion good.
  • Are you getting to my level - or should I come down?
  • Please come back again if you have less time.
  • They're not dumb. You're just unlucky when thinking.
  • One does not speak with an empty brain!
  • Either of us is smarter than you.
  • May I offer you the "Bye"?
  • I don't have the time or the crayons to explain this to you.
  • You're mistaking me for someone who cares.

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