Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to develop a model of abusive leadership as experienced by young workers. Abusive leadership is understood to be subjective and as such this research seeks to explore the experience of abusive leadership through a qualitative approach. Design/methodology/approach – Drawing on interviews with 30 young workers who identified themselves as having a “bad” boss, this study employs a constructivist grounded theory approach in order to identify behaviours, moderators and outcomes of abusive leadership. Findings – A definition and model of abusive leadership as experienced by young workers is proposed. The model details 11 behaviours, five moderators and six individual and two organizational outcomes of abusive leadership. Originality/value – The adoption of a constructivist grounded theory approach reveals several unique factors that moderate the relationship between behaviors and outcomes of abusive leadership in young workers. By grounding the model in the actual experiences of young workers, the paper offers possibilities for future research on abusive leadership and young workers and across demographic groups.