Is Yelling In The Workplace Harassment? Is It Allowed?
More often than not, people who have worked under someone as subordinates have at least once endured the screams, shouts, and humiliating attitudes of their superiors.
Yelling at work can be considered harassment if it is intended to intimidate, belittle, or humiliate the victim. It can also be considered harassment if it is based on a protected characteristic, such as race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.
If you believe you are being harassed, you should document the incidents and report them to your employer.
But why do bosses, managers, and supervisors yell in the first place? From a psychological perspective, yelling in the workplace is a means of gaining control, intimidation, and asserting dominance.
But there are so many downsides to it as well. Frequent shouting can actually spoil a well-established company culture and harm communication within a team.
I think we can all agree that it’s not an effective way to communicate and create a healthy coworker relationship with anyone. In fact, it can be quite destructive.
So let’s take a closer look at this office topic from various perspectives and come to conclusions that might be useful to you.
Table of Contents
Is it OK to be yelled at, at work?
We need to clarify that by “getting yelled at” at work, we are referring to aggressive, targeted shouting done with the purpose of asserting dominance over a person and affecting them negatively from a psychological standpoint.
I am excluding loud work environments (such as kitchens, factories, building sites, etc.) where shouting might be necessary for the sake of proper communication.
From what common sense and decency dictate, it is hard to imagine anyone enjoying a confrontation with a coworker or a superior that escalates to uncontrollable yelling and shouts.
From a legal standpoint, you need to check the legal definition of “workplace harassment” in your state or country and compare that to the behavior of the person who is yelling at you in order to have a case in court.
Personally, I think that in most cases, being yelled at work can be considered harassment if it is psychologically damaging or fuelled by hate.
Here is a quick checklist that can direct you and help you decide for yourself if the yelling that is being experienced is indeed verbal abuse:
- Fuelled by hate – On the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, and sexual orientation.
- Targeted – A specific person is being yelled at and targeted.
- Done regularly – The behavior continues and it is done on a regular basis.
- Detrimental – The yelling is psychologically damaging to the person who is being yelled at.
A single instance of yelling when a person is in severe distress is technically not illegal. Also, your boss showing aggression towards you can be a sign that they see you as a threat.
However, speaking from experience here, companies and organizations with policies and cultures that are centered around well-being and clear communication will absolutely not tolerate such behavior and would take immediate action.
Is your boss allowed to yell at you?
Is your boss's yelling considered harassment? Again, it will be indeed considered harassment if it matches the legal definition in your state or country.
When it comes to the very act of yelling itself, technically, there is no legal prohibition against bosses yelling at their employees. What matters is the circumstances around the situation.
For example, it may be discriminatory and insensitive if your boss is yelling only at women, African-Americans, or people with disabilities.
But can your boss yell at you in front of other employees if the said boss is having a complete psychological meltdown in severe distress due to some unforeseen unfortunate events?
Well, while it would be very unpleasant, if there is no ill will behind the yelling itself, perhaps they can be excused this one time.
The bottom line is that context matters, and the circumstances will always be taken into account.
If you would describe the behavior of your boss as “unethical”, then you should consider them a threat to your entire organization. Lots of yelling and aggression by superiors and coworkers are sure signs of a toxic work environment.
The researchers of the Ethical Leadership study found strong evidence that being a “horrible boss” can have horrible effects within an organization.
According to Rebecca Greenbaum, who is a professor at Rutgers University’s school of management and labor relations, there is no supporting evidence to the idea that being a “tough boss” leads to improved performance and better results.
If the treatment you receive on a daily basis at work affects you emotionally, then consider leaving this toxic work environment.
Can you sue your boss for yelling at you?
If the yelling is part of continuous abusive or discriminatory behavior, then you can definitely make a case against your boss, with regard to your local laws and regulations.
You also need to consider what evidence or witnesses you have that would help you in court to win the case.
In my experience, if a boss is confident enough to scream and be abusive, then they feel very protected and secure in their position, knowing there is not much that the employees can do except leave.
This is just a typical sign of a toxic work environment where those in positions of power prey on the vulnerable.
If you are in such a position and you don’t have concrete evidence against your morally corrupt boss, then I strongly urge you to move on to another job as soon as you are capable of doing so. It's not worth wasting your time, money, and energy.
In case you decide to take legal action against your boss and maximize your chances of winning the case:
- Keep a detailed record of each instance of yelling, including dates, times, witnesses, and any offensive or discriminatory language used
- Follow your company's internal grievance procedure and report the incidents to your supervisor, HR department, or designated personnel
- File a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
- Obtain a Notice of Right to Sue from the EEOC, which will allow you to proceed with a lawsuit in federal or state court
- Seek the assistance of an employment lawyer who specializes in workplace harassment cases and can help you build a strong case
Can someone get fired for yelling at a coworker?
In this case, you need to consider the company’s internal policy, ethics, and culture.
A single instance of yelling where a person has completely lost their good senses in severe distress might be tolerated and forgiven.
If the yelling is uncalled for, you can always refer to your workplace's policies. A supervisor might be asked to handle the situation, or you can contact HR.
In any case, the person who shouted should be given the opportunity to explain the reasons why they were upset.
If you feel the other party's behavior is discriminatory, you should report them immediately. If the other party has a history of harassing employees, they can be fired for it.
Continuous aggressive behavior that includes yelling, shouting, and “making scenes” can definitely result in termination.
In addition to the outburst itself, the employer might consider other factors that are at play, such as the potential negative impact on coworkers.
If the workplace is generally friendly and the established team culture has a casual element to it, it might be okay to allow yelling as long as it's justified.
Yelling at coworkers may be unprofessional and rude, it's unlikely to be grounds for termination under such circumstances. While it is unprofessional, it's not outrageous and is not usually considered egregious.
The bottom line is that yelling at coworkers is rarely considered workplace harassment on its own, but it can be a factor in dismissing an employee.
How do you deal with a yelling employee?
Handling an employee who yells at other employees requires a calm, professional approach to addressing the situation and preventing further disruptions.
1. Stay calm and don't yell back
Keep your composure and remain calm when confronted by a yelling employee. Take a few deep breaths and maintain a neutral tone when speaking to them.
2. Listen to them and observe
Evaluate their circumstances and allow them to express their concerns or frustrations.
Was the outburst uncalled for? Was it a single instance, or is this happening regularly? Is the yelling just a part of abusive or discriminatory behavior?
Is it causing emotional distress and demoralizing other members of the staff?
3. Address the behavior
Talk privately to the person and do your best to understand their situation. Make it clear to them that their behavior is not acceptable and ask them to contain themselves. Then discuss possible solutions or next steps to address the issue in a more constructive manner.
4. Ask the employee to apologize
Ask the person to apologize for their behavior so that they can continue to work in good spirits with the rest of the personnel.
5. Make sure it won't happen again
Monitor the behavior of the employee in the days and weeks to come to see if there is any improvement.
In case the unacceptable behavior continues, take the matter to a superior or HR. Examine the case once again, consider all circumstances, and make a decision.
And if you are too stressed out after work because of all the noise, then here you can take a look at a few helpful steps on how to unwind properly.
My experience being yelled at by my manager
One day at work, I made a minor mistake on a report I submitted. I had accidentally missed a small but important detail, which led to slight confusion.
My manager, who was under a lot of pressure from the higher-ups, noticed the error and immediately became furious. In front of my colleagues, he began to scream at me, questioning my competence and ability to complete even the simplest of tasks.
I was both embarrassed and hurt, but I knew I had to handle the situation professionally. So, I took a deep breath and decided to approach my manager privately after he had cooled down.
I knocked on his office door, and when he invited me in, I calmly explained that I understood his frustration and acknowledged my mistake.
I then presented a plan to correct the error and assured him that I would take extra care in the future to avoid such mistakes.
My manager, now more composed, apologized for his outburst and admitted that he had been under immense stress. He appreciated my willingness to take responsibility and my proactive approach to resolving the issue.
We agreed to work together to improve communication and prevent similar incidents in the future. In the end, not only did I learn from my mistake, but we also strengthened our professional relationship, and the whole team benefitted from the improved communication and collaboration.
Frequently asked questions about yelling at work
What is considered yelling in the workplace?
Yelling in the workplace involves raising one's voice aggressively, potentially intimidating or belittling others.
Is yelling a hostile work environment?
Yelling in the workplace can contribute to a hostile work environment if it is targeted, continuous, and fuelled by hate towards gender, race, ethnicity, culture, sexual orientation, etc.
Can a manager yell at you in front of other employees?
A manager should not yell at employees, especially in front of others, as it is unprofessional and disrespectful. If the yelling is severe, offensive, or discriminatory, it may create a hostile work environment and could be considered workplace harassment, which is prohibited under U.S. federal laws.
What to do if someone yells at you at work?
If somebody is yelling at you at work and this is causing you psychological distress, talk to a superior or a member of HR.