Poor Management Style

“I have a temper and tend to yell at employees when someone doesn’t do their work correctly. My yelling seems to get results. However, Mary, one of my employees, claims we have a hostile work environment. Does she have a case?”

The definition of a hostile work environment is a form of harassment and is frequently misunderstood by employees. They often assume being yelled at is a basis for claiming the office is a hostile work environment. While you may not be providing a great working environment, your yelling may not legally qualify as a hostile work environment.

There are many protected classes, such as gender, marital status, religion, and race, to name just a few. The number of protected classes has grown so now almost everyone belongs to one class or another. Legally, a hostile work environment means you are mistreating specific employees because of their protected class. However, the harassment must also be sufficiently severe or pervasive enough to make the work environment hostile or abusive. The courts consider:

  • The frequency and severity of the conduct;
  • Whether the conduct was physically threatening or humiliating or merely an offensive utterance; and,
  • Whether the conduct unreasonably interferes with the employee’s work performance.

If you yelled at Mary because of her protected class, it could be considered a hostile work environment, unlawful discrimination, and/or harassment. If your yelling is spread evenly amongst all your employees and you yell at everyone when you’re upset, it is unlikely this is a violation of California or federal law. However, your yelling may get results in the short term, but good employees will leave the bad atmosphere and you’ll spend time and money finding new employees.

Even if Mary’s complaint doesn’t fit the legal requirements of harassment, the company must still investigate. She’s made the claim, so the company must respond. Since the complaint is directed toward you, the business owner, you’ll need to bring in someone to do the investigation so you can put the matter to rest.

Avoid this in the future by exploring other, better ways to manage. I’ve never heard an employee say they liked being yelled at, regardless of the reason. Developing a better management style is less likely to create legal issues for you and will result in a better working environment for everyone.

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