Are Supervisors and Managers Allowed to Yell at Employees?

Are Supervisors and Managers Allowed to Yell at Employees?
Are Supervisors Allowed to Yell?

Work can be stressful at times. Projects may be piling up or sales goals aren’t being met. Depending on the leadership in your organization, you may come across a supervisor or manager who tends to communicate in a more aggressive fashion, by yelling. A supervisor’s tendency to yell at employees may seem like it is the “wrong” way to manage people. But is it?

The Harvard Business Review noted in an article that some of the great leaders of our time such as Steve Jobs of Apple and Jeff Bezos of Amazon have reputations of being yellers.

It was also noted that “the notion that raising one’s voice represents a managerial weakness or a failure of leadership seems to be prima facie nonsense. The empirical fact pattern suggests that in a variety of creative and intensely competitive talent-rich disciplines around the world, the most successful leaders actually have yelling as both a core competence and brand attribute.”

According to Jon Gordon, author of The No Complaining Rule: Positive Ways to Deal with Negativity at Work: “The research and data are clear that yelling at [employees] — it’s humiliating for them, decreases their self-esteem, and puts them in a state of fear and anger.”

Manager yelling at an employee in the workplace

Is Yelling in the Workplace Allowed?

The short answer is yes. Legally speaking, supervisors and managers are allowed to yell at employees.

However, when that yelling is about or against a protected class, the yelling may qualify as harassment. Yelling as  a form of harassment depends on the situation in which someone is being yelled at and what the supervisor is yelling at them about. Therefore, it might be smart to just avoid yelling altogether and work on better communication skills.

This doesn’t mean a supervisor is never allowed to get angry or frustrated — no one is perfect. It just means that the anger or frustration should be communicated properly. 

A supervisor may be angry or frustrated about the lack of productivity from their employees. This type of conflict can be “good” when communicated and navigated properly. Instead of screaming at them, the supervisor should address the issue, explain what precisely the issue is, and express why the issue affects the organization and/or other employees, whatever the case may be.

Identifying the Issue and its Impact on the Workplace

When a supervisor or manager yells at an employee, it’s typically not just an isolated incident of workplace conflict. It’s a signal of underlying issues that can escalate into verbal harassment and affect employee morale and productivity. In some situations, it can escalate to a significant legal issue.

This behavior, often overlooked or underestimated, can create a toxic work environment, undermining the trust of employees and teams. 

It’s important to recognize the seriousness of these incidents as they arise. Addressing them is not just about resolving a singular dispute; it’s about taking action to prevent future situations from arising and safeguarding the organization from potential legal repercussions.

Identifying and addressing instances of supervisors or managers yelling at employees can help organizations maintain a healthy, respectful, and legally compliant workplace environment.

Who’s Responsible for Addressing the Problem

In any organization, when a supervisor or manager is caught yelling at an employee, it’s important to know who steps in to address this issue.

Typically, this responsibility falls to HR leaders or higher-level management. They are the ones who should have a conversation with the supervisor or manager involved, discussing the seriousness of their actions and exploring the reasons behind them.

It’s also up to HR leaders or senior managers to take proactive steps to prevent such incidents in the future. We’ll identify some of these steps below, but this might involve additional training, revising communication policies, or even adjusting the team dynamics.

When it comes to checking if any legal action needs to be taken, that’s likely the HR department’s responsibility. They need to be on top of the legal implications and ensure the organization is compliant with workplace laws.

Lastly, maintaining a positive workplace culture is a team effort, but HR and senior management lead the charge. They set the tone and create an environment where respect and professionalism are the norm, ensuring everyone feels valued and heard.

Employee conversation with manager about yelling in the workplace

Intervention Strategies

Taking immediate and appropriate corrective action represents a commitment to supporting a culture of respect and positivity in the workplace. This approach is critical to demonstrating that the organization values a constructive work environment.

When handling employee complaints and grievances related to such incidents, it is essential to establish a transparent and fair investigation process. This should include:

  • clear channels for employees to voice their concerns without fear of retribution
  • a thorough examination of the facts
  • an unbiased determination of the appropriate course of action

Ensuring non-retaliation is important in maintaining trust and integrity within the organization. It assures employees that their voices are heard and valued.

Policy Creation and Implementation

The creation and implementation of clear, comprehensive policies against supervisor or manager abuse is important for any organization. 

Crafting an effective anti-abuse policy requires an understanding of both the legal landscape and the unique culture of your company. This policy should define what constitutes abusive behavior, including yelling at employees, and lay out the consequences for such actions.

The process of policy creation should involve input from various stakeholders within the organization. Once drafted, it’s important to communicate this policy effectively to all employees, ensuring that everyone, from the top management to the newest recruit, understands the standards of conduct expected in the workplace. Training sessions can be a valuable tool to help employees understand the policy within the context of their daily work.

Policy enforcement is equally important. An anti-abuse policy is only as strong as its implementation. HR departments should be equipped and empowered to take decisive action when the policy is violated. This could range from mediation to more severe disciplinary measures, depending on the severity of the offense.

Implementing Effective Conflict Resolution Strategies

Creating a safe and open environment for employees to report incidents like verbal abuse is an important step to sustaining a positive culture. This means establishing clear, accessible reporting channels, ensuring that team members feel supported and protected from any potential retaliation

Mediation can serve as an effective initial approach. Mediation typically involves bringing together the involved parties – the employee, the supervisor, and potentially an HR professional or a trained mediator. The objective is to facilitate a constructive dialogue, allowing each party to share their perspective and work towards mutual understanding and resolution.

Regular check-ins and open feedback channels can help address issues proactively.

Training and Development for Supervisors and Managers

Implementing training programs can address the immediate issue and enhance the overall leadership and communication skills within the supervisory and management team.

Leadership training for supervisors should be a core component of this initiative. This training should cover effective leadership styles, emotional intelligence, and how to inspire and motivate teams in a positive manner. Emphasizing the impact of their leadership style on team morale and productivity can be eye-opening for many supervisors.

Equally important is the development of communication skills. Programs focusing on this area should include active listening, the art of giving and receiving feedback, and techniques for constructive dialogue. The goal is to equip managers with the skills to express expectations and concerns in a way that fosters mutual respect and understanding, rather than fear or resentment.

Conflict resolution courses are also incredibly valuable. These should teach supervisors and managers how to identify and address conflicts early and effectively, using strategies that promote collaboration and problem-solving, rather than confrontation. By understanding the root causes of conflicts and learning how to navigate them calmly and professionally, managers can create a more harmonious workplace.

Legal paperwork addressing yelling in the workplace

Legal Implications and Preventative Measures

When a manager or supervisor is found yelling at an employee, it may not be simply a matter of discipline. Depending on the situation, it may have legal implications that employers and HR leaders must consider.

This type of behavior can potentially fall under the legal definition of verbal abuse, especially when it becomes a pattern or is particularly severe. In certain circumstances, if the yelling includes inappropriate comments, it could even be construed as sexual harassment.

Seeking guidance from an experienced employment lawyer is often advisable to ensure that the organization’s response is not only appropriate but also legally sound.

When Yelling Becomes Harassment

In the workplace, the line between a heated moment and verbal harassment can sometimes become blurred, but it’s critical to understand when a supervisor or manager yelling at an employee crosses into the territory of harassment.

Yelling, especially when it’s repetitive or excessively aggressive, can be considered a form of workplace harassment, particularly if it’s targeted at an individual’s characteristics or background. This is especially true if the yelling includes discriminatory behavior or language based on aspects such as:

  • race
  • national origin
  • gender
  • sexual orientation
  • other protected categories

Harassment is not just about the words spoken; it’s also about the intent and the impact those words have. For instance, if a manager consistently yells at an employee in a way that belittles or intimidates them because of their national origin or sexual orientation, it becomes more than just a disciplinary issue—it’s a violation of workplace harassment policies and, potentially, of the law.

In these scenarios, the behavior shifts from being a management style to a legal issue, necessitating immediate and decisive action from the organization to address and rectify the situation effectively.

When Verbal Abuse Becomes Violent

When a situation involving a supervisor or manager yelling at an employee escalates to aggressive behavior or, more alarmingly, to physical violence, immediate action is required.

Acts of violence or the threat thereof in the workplace are not only unacceptable but also pose serious safety and legal concerns. Employers must treat any incidents of workplace violence with the utmost seriousness, prioritizing the safety of all employees.

When violence (or the threat of violence) occurs in the workplace:

  1. Ensure that the affected employee is safe and removed from any immediate danger.
  2. Conduct a thorough investigation to understand the circumstances surrounding the incident.

Employers should have a zero-tolerance policy toward violence. This means any act of physical aggression should result in appropriate disciplinary action, which may include termination of employment and legal action if warranted.

Additionally, employers should provide support to all employees affected by the incident, including counseling services if necessary, and review their workplace policies to prevent future occurrences.

Office workers sitting around the table at a respectful workplace

Creating a Supportive and Respectful Workplace Culture

In the wake of an incident where a manager or supervisor has yelled at an employee, creating a supportive and respectful workplace culture is an important step to take.

Such incidents can contribute to a hostile work environment, which is detrimental not only to the individuals involved but also to the overall morale and productivity of the team.

It’s important to provide direct support to employees who have been subjected to this type of behavior. This can include access to mental health resources and counseling services, ensuring they have a safe space to express their concerns and receive professional guidance.

Additionally, organizing workshops or sessions that promote understanding, empathy, and respectful communication can be beneficial. By actively fostering an environment where respect and support are embedded in the company’s culture, employers and HR departments can turn a negative incident into a catalyst for positive change, reinforcing a commitment to a healthy workplace.


  • Tom Ault

    Tom specializes in assisting organizations with a full spectrum of human resource projects, programs, and training. Tom’s primary areas of focus are creating and sustaining effective teams, leadership and supervisory development, financial acumen, leading change, communication, talent management, organizational and employee development, performance management, coaching and mentoring, and employee engagement.