Lessons from the National Football League in the Workplace

IMG_8161Regardless of whether one is a Miami Dolphins or NFL fan, the recent investigation by the NFL regarding allegations of bullying involving Jonathan Martin may tell a precautionary tale for all employers.  Briefly, Martin left the Dolphins in the middle of the 2013 NFL season, claiming that he had been a victim of bullying by teammates, including but not limited to text messages and other communications using the “N-word.”  The alleged primary “bully’ (Richie Incognito) has been suspended by the Dolphins during the pendency of the investigation.

While  efforts in Connecticut at passing legislation specifically prohibiting workplace bullying have been unsuccessful, employers should not be blasé about addressing such claims of inappropriate behavior in the workplace.  For example, in the Martin matter, the alleged bullying involved racially charged and offensive language.  If such alleged conduct was to occur in one’s workplace, such conduct would clearly have to be addressed via the employer’s requisite equal employment and anti-discrimination/anti-harassment policies; the failure to appropriately investigate and (if necessary) remediate will expose the employer to claims of violations of state and federal race discrimination laws, including claims of a “hostile work environment.”  Indeed, where there is a link between the alleged bullying behavior and the alleged victim’s membership in a protected class (for example, race, gender, age, religion, disability status), bullying will lead to claims of discrimination or harassment, especially where such bullying creates a hostile work environment.  In addition, the employer may face liability if the bullying is viewed as a response to an employee’s actions taken as a “whistleblower.”

While (in light of the above-mentioned inaction by the Connecticut legislature) there is no generic action for workplace bullying divorced of a connection to allegations of discrimination or harassment against a member of a protected class (or a whistleblower), the failure of an employer to respond to allegations of bullying or related workplace conduct may still lead to legal liability.  For example, one could assert that the failure by an employer to respond to bullying in the workplace may constitute a tortious action, for example, constituting intentional infliction of emotional distress. In addition, bullying that leads to physical injury could lead to tort or workers' compensation claims.  Of course, not only the employer but also the alleged “bully” may be the subject of legal action; however, the employer will be viewed as the deeper pocket.

In this context, employers should ensure that all appropriate policies regarding employee conduct are implemented and enforced. Claims of bullying or related conduct should be investigated thoroughly and promptly, consistent with the employer’s policies.  Indeed, it is worthwhile noting that there could be an obligation to investigate and remediate bullying and harassment even in the absence of formal complaint by an individual.  Please note: of course, any investigation into misconduct must be accomplished in a way that protects the rights of both the alleged victim and the accused.

This blog/web site presents general information only. The information you obtain at this site is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice, and you should not consider or rely on it as such. You should consult an attorney for individual advice regarding your own situation. This website is not an offer to represent you. You should not act, or refrain from acting, based upon any information at this website. Neither our presentation of such information nor your receipt of it creates nor will create an attorney-client relationship with any reader of this blog. Any links from another site to the blog are beyond the control of Pullman & Comley, LLC and do not convey their approval, support or any relationship to any site or organization. Any description of a result obtained for a client in the past is not intended to be, and is not, a guarantee or promise the firm can or will achieve a similar outcome.

PDF
Subscribe to Updates

About Our Labor, Employment and Employee Benefits Law Blog

Alerts, commentary, and insights from the attorneys of Pullman & Comley’s Labor, Employment Law and Employee Benefits practice on such workplace topics as labor and employment law, counseling and training, litigation, immigration law and union issues, as well as employee benefits and ERISA matters.

Other Blogs by Pullman & Comley

Connecticut Health Law Blog

Education Law Notes

For What It May Be Worth

Recent Posts

Archives

Jump to Page