What people are usually asking about in a situation like this is, is this a "hostile" work environment. While getting that type of correspondence from an owner or supervisor is definitely hostile - and I imagine that this isn't the first time they've spoken to you like that - is hostile, it legally doesn't rise to (based on these facts) a hostile work environment. Unfortunately, there are no laws in this country against workplace bullying or abuse. Nothing in federal or state law prohibits a boss or owner from being unprofessional, rude, disrespectful, and downright nasty.
In order to be legally protected, the conduct must involve a protected class. That is, it must go to a person's race, religion, age (if over 40), sex, disability or national origin. In some states, additional protections are afforded. Due to the way the laws are written, only employers of certain sizes are also covered by the law, though again, state laws can expand that protection.
Anti-discrimination and harassment laws protect employees from being treated negatively in hiring/firing/layoff decisions, pay practices, promotional and job assignment decisions, training opportunities, etc.) because of their actual or perceived inclusion in a protected class or status (e.g., race, gender, age, ethnicity, marital status, religious affiliation, veteran status, disability, and in some circumstances because of their parental status, political affiliation, or sexual orientation). Employers are also precluded from retaliating against an employee making discrimination or harassment claims and/or participating in a claim-triggered investigation.
Determining harassment or discrimination is fact-specific and the elements that must be established depend on the type alleged. In general, to establish that a person has been harassed or discriminated against under the law, that person must show: (1) the conduct was unwelcome; (2) the harassment occurred because of the person’s class or status; (3) it affected the terms or conditions of employment; and (4) it was imputed to the employer. To impute harassment to the employer, the harasser typically must be a company owner, operator, manager or supervisor. If the harasser is a co-worker, the claimant must establish that the employer knew about the harassment but did nothing to prevent it. Under certain circumstances, a person may claim harassment even if he simply witnessed the harassment of another, provided other elements of the claim exist. To establish discrimination, evidence must show: (1) the person was an actual or perceived member of a protected class; (2) performing satisfactory work; (3) subjected to an adverse employment action or treatment (fired, laid off, not promoted, denied a particular job assignment, harassed, etc.) that other non-protected coworkers doing substantially the same work were not subjected to or that the person was replaced by a non-protected person.
Conduct and speech typically considered “hostile” is intimidating, offensive, abusive and/or otherwise offensive, going beyond rudeness or casual joking. It must reach a level of harassment, mockery, ridicule and/or unrelenting teasing. Isolated incidents or petty slights are generally not sufficient to create a hostile work environment. To qualify as a “hostile” workplace, conduct must be intentional, severe, recurring and/or pervasive and interfere with the employee’s ability to perform his/her job. To determine whether conduct or speech is a minor offense or is intimidating, offensive or abusive, a court or investigating agency will consider how often it occurred and the reaction it garnered, and ask how a “reasonable person” would characterize it. It must be considered “across the line” not only on a subjective basis by the person making the complaint, but also on an objective basis by “reasonable people.” In other words, the agency investigating the complaint or a judge or jury adjudicating a claim must adopt the perspective of a reasonable person and determine what his/her reaction would be to a similar environment under similar or like circumstances.
The line between generic harmlessness or isolated joking and ridicule or mockery of a person because of his/her protected status is typically reasonably clear. In a recent case decided by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, an employee was awarded $166,500 because he was subjected to routine teasing by his manager and the company’s human resources director. In another case, a woman was awarded approximately $8 million dollars after a jury concluded that because she was a woman she was subjected to regular and egregious tormenting by co-workers, including being trapped in a port-a-potty for 20 minutes on a hot day, routinely shown pictures of naked women, ridiculed because she was working in a male-dominated industry, regularly forced to clean up chewing tobacco spit, etc. The multiple ways she was targeted and treated differently over a long duration of time clearly led to the high verdict.
Bot***** *****ne - nothing prohibits rude behavior, but where it crosses the line into a protected class, and is severe and ongoing, as you can see, there can be liability. Based on this one email alone, however, I see an owner who is a jerk, but no legal recourse.