Is yelling in the workplace harassment?
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.
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 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 harassment:
- 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 under 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 actions.
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 considered 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 under 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 practicing the philosophy of quiet quitting in order to cope until you decide to leave 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 yell 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.
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 under 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 yelled 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?
The very first step in dealing with a yelling employee would be to consider their circumstances.
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?
In any case, 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.
Ask the person to apologize for their behavior so that they can continue to work in good spirit with the rest of the personnel.
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 yelling, then here you can take a look at a few helpful steps on how to unwind properly.
- Yelling in the workplace can be considered harassment if it is targeted, continuous, and fuelled by hate towards gender, race, ethnicity, culture, sexual orientation, etc.
- Check your local legal definition of workplace harassment to determine what actions you should take.
- If somebody is yelling at you at work and this is causing you psychological distress, talk to a superior or a member of HR.
- Yelling and workplace harassment are a sign of a toxic work environment. This is detrimental to well-being and productivity.
I was humiliated when Engineering VP yelled on me during an external conference call with customer.