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.
MIAMI DOLPHINS BULLYING SCANDAL
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.
ANTI-BULLYING HEALTHY WORKPLACE BILL
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?
INSIGHTS FOR EMPLOYERS
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.