In the past decade, state anti-bullying and hazing legislation has focused primarily on bullying and hazing in schools. However, bullying does not merely occur between children on the playground. The recent Miami Dolphins scandal illustrates the growing concern over bullying in the workplace and provides lessons for employers to protect themselves from the legal risks of bullying in the workplace.


Jonathan Martin, a 6-foot-5, 312 pound offensive lineman for the Miami Dolphins, walked away from his National Football League (NFL) job amid reports that his fellow teammate, Richie Incognito, allegedly bullied and harassed Martin on multiple occasions. The allegations include a reported voicemail where Incognito used racial slurs and threatened Martin, Incognito forced Martin to pay $15,000 for a Las Vegas party that he did not attend, and that certain coaches told Incognito to “toughen up” Martin.


The media spotlight that ensued following Martin’s leave sheds light on a common problem for many employers – many American employees experience workplace bullying at some point or another in their career. Employers can face lawsuits related to bullying under Title VII if the harassment is based on a protected class, such as race, religion, or disability. Claims can be made for harassment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent supervision.


Many states have considered workplace anti-bullying legislation to let employees sue for workplace harassment without proving that the harassment is based on a protected class.  Since 2003, 25 states have introduced the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill (HWB), but none of those states have enacted a law yet.  Idaho is one of nine states that have not introduced the HWB yet.  The current national focus on bullying suggests that it is only a matter of time before employers will have to be prepared to deal with such workplace anti-bullying laws. So, what should employers do to avoid harassment claims and stay ahead of the curve?


  • Institute Anti-Bullying Policies & Process for Handling Complaints – Employers should expand on existing written harassment and non-retaliation policies to cover a broader range of conduct, including but not limited to: insults, spreading of rumors, unwarranted criticism, exclusion from meetings or other workplace activities, pranks, and unreasonable work demands. Such policies should also clearly define internal reporting procedures and outline disciplinary action for violations of the policy. Employers should respond not only to formal complaints about alleged misconduct but also informal complaints.
  • Conduct Regular Workplace Anti-Bullying Training – To help ensure early detection and prevention, employers should also provide regular anti-bullying training workshops to employees and management. The trainings should include examples of inappropriate behavior, interactive training, such as mock scenarios to promote correct behavior or videos and PowerPoint presentations. It is also important to train management so they know how to properly handle any complaints they receive.
  • Provide Support Services – A support network for employees who may be the victim of bullying may also be very beneficial to employers. Support services provide an employee with counseling, or other wellness programs, and allow the employer to prevent certain conduct and address inappropriate behavior.
  • By implementing anti-bullying policies and programs, employers can hopefully avoid the expense of a lawsuit and the decline in employee moral that is often associated with bullying in the workplace. Employers should take the opportunity to learn from the nationally publicized alleged bullying of Jonathan Martin and have procedures in place to prevent such conduct in order to avoid the backlash that plagued the Miami Dolphins locker room.

    Please contact a Gjording Fouser lawyer at 208.336.9777 if you would like any additional information about this topic or any other employment issues facing your company.