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When an abusive supervisor is equally intolerable to everyone, is it harassment?

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in Discrimination and Harassment,HR Management,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

As an HR professional, you’re constantly being called on to decide whether an employee’s rights have been violated.

Especially tricky are allegations concerning alleged harassment, sexual or otherwise.

Simply put, not all workplace “abuse” is illegal harassment. And not every employee subjected to an unreasonable supervisor is entitled to legal relief.

Take, for example, a manager who does a lot of indiscriminate yelling. As long as he  doesn’t say anything outrageously linked to sex or race, there may be nothing illegal about the behavior. But explaining that to the affected employees can be difficult.

Recent case: Katherine Murphy worked for a charter school and had a supervisor who was, to put it mildly, hard to please. He yelled, called his subordinates names like “stupid” and “idiot” and was generally very unpleasant to women and men alike.

Murphy sued for sexual harassment.

However, the court considering the case concluded that the tirades she complained about didn’t constitute actionable sexual harassment. The court said it didn’t appear that the behavior was directed at anyone particularly on account of their sex. It refused to continue the lawsuit. (Murphy v. City of Aventura, et al., No. 09-13419, 11th Cir., 2010)

Final note: Of course, management still has to decide if it’s worth the hassle and poor morale to keep an abusive supervisor around. Plus, you never know when someone with a temper will cross the line into sexual, racial or other harassment.

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