Not a Hostile Work Environment

“I have an employee who has filed a complaint with me about a hostile work environment. When I asked her to describe the situation, she told me her supervisor yelled at her about something she had done wrong. How do I handle this?”

Your HR Survival Tip

We have found the phrase “hostile work environment” to be very overused and misunderstood. Regardless of what you might think actually happened, you must take the complaint seriously and learn more. If you are current with your harassment prevention training, you already know a legal claim of a hostile work environment must include harassing behavior against a protected class of employee(s) that happens frequently over a period of time or as a severe single incident.

CA human resourcesAllowing your supervisory staff to yell at their direct reports for any reason is a bad management style that should not be condoned. As the business owner, it is up to you to ensure your supervisors understand how to get results without frustration and raised voices. Yelling stops people from listening so there is no advantage to it… and it can lead to a claim you must take time to investigate.

The first thing when getting a claim like this is to understand what the yelling was about. If you discover the supervisor was yelling over a work mistake, it’s possible the situation is just an example of poor management style and not actually illegal. If you discover the supervisor only yells at the women (or another protected class), you may have a bigger problem. If it’s a one-time situation and was about the employee’s error with their work, someone needs to be capable of explaining why this isn’t a true claim of hostile work environment. However, you also need to work with the supervisor to let them know they need to work on being a better manager or face disciplinary action.

Yelling at work does happen more frequently than it should. However, just like you hold the supervisor accountable for getting the right results from their employees, the company is accountable for ensuring the supervisors have the tools they need to get those results. The tools are learned methods of coaching employees, training employees, and providing feedback. Without these tools, you’ll find supervisors have one or two conversations with a problem employee, then start to get frustrated with the employee and end up shouting.

While yelling at an employee may not currently be against the law or a hostile work environment, it reflects on your company because you allow it. The employees care about the work environment or they wouldn’t be making these claims. You should care just as much. Your time and money is better spent training supervisors rather than investigating claims.

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