NFL in­ci­dent pro­vides pul­pit against work­place bul­lies

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY ALEX HOP­KINS

Not all bul­lies are in the school­yard — or in the locker room.

The shock­ing case of the haz­ing of Mi­ami Dol­phins foot­ball player Jonathan Martin by team­mate Richie Incog­nito has fo­cused at­ten­tion on the larger prob­lem of work­place bul­ly­ing — and of the dif­fi­cul­ties for fed­eral and state of­fi­cials in try­ing to de­fine and de­ter it.

As the Dol­phins case un­folds, an­a­lysts who have stud­ied the prob­lem say work­place bul­ly­ing may be more preva­lent than many think. Bul­ly­ing at the of­fice and on the fac­tory floor has be­come the fo­cus of sev­eral pro­posed state laws, as well as a ral­ly­ing cry for ad­vo­cates, em­ploy­ers and em­ploy­ees alike.

Ac­cord­ing to a 2011 study by the So­ci­ety for Hu­man Re­source Man­age­ment, the lead­ing trade group for per­son­nel pro­fes­sion­als, more than half of the com­pa­nies sur­veyed re­ported in­ci­dents of bul­ly­ing in their work­places. More than 25 per­cent of hu­man re­sources pro­fes­sion­als them­selves re­ported that they had been vic­tim­ized in the work­place. But ac­cord­ing to the as­so­ci­a­tion, only 43 per­cent of com­pa­nies re­port hav­ing an anti-bul­ly­ing sec­tion in their em­ployee man­u­als.

Work­place bul­ly­ing can lead to health prob­lems such as hy­per­ten­sion, in­som­nia, de­pres­sion and stress. Pro­duc­tiv­ity and the cor­po­rate bot­tom line can suf­fer as a re­sult of in­creased em­ployee turnover, ab­sen­teeism and a neg­a­tive rep­u­ta­tion.

Statutes against bul­ly­ing, in per­son and online, tend to fo­cus on younger vic­tims in school. The few state statutes that ex­plic­itly ad­dress work­place bul­ly­ing typ­i­cally fo­cus on school em­ploy­ees and not the cor­po­rate world at large.

The Pew Char­i­ta­ble Trusts’ State­line news ser­vice re­ports that the very def­i­ni­tion of what con­sti­tutes le­gal bul­ly­ing varies from state to state: “Some states de­scribe it as per­sis­tent ha­rass­ment, while oth­ers de­scribe it as sim­ply an­noy­ing be­hav­ior or teas­ing. Oth­ers, such as Florida, lay out spe­cific be­hav­iors, such as ha­rass­ment, stalk­ing and as­sault, which also are crim­i­nal acts.”

The con­fu­sion leads some to ques­tion whether em­ploy­ers are do­ing enough to ed­u­cate and pro­tect their em­ploy­ees.

David C. Ya­mada, a law pro­fes­sor and di­rec­tor of Suf­folk Univer­sity Law School’s New Work­place In­sti­tute, has drafted a model “Healthy Work­place Bill” which tries to de­fine what con­sti­tutes an “abu­sive work en­vi­ron­ment.”

He wrote re­cently that work­place bul­ly­ing tends to get over­looked be­cause the hu­man in­ter­est ap­peal typ­i­cally doesn’t reach the level of bul­ly­ing chil­dren.

“Al­though work­place bul­ly­ing is one of the most com­mon forms of in­ter­per­sonal abuse at work, most peo­ple tar­geted for this mis­treat­ment are un­likely to find the me­dia in­ter­ested in their sto­ries. In this case, with­out the grow­ing me­dia at­ten­tion, it’s pos­si­ble that the whole thing would’ve been swept un­der the rug,” said Mr. Ya­mada. “Most bul­ly­ing tar­gets must deal with the abuse on a wildly un­even play­ing field, and hav­ing a le­gal wedge will help to level things out.”

Weigh­ing leg­is­la­tion

No state has passed an anti-bul­ly­ing law for the work­place, al­though 25 states have con­sid­ered leg­is­la­tion since 2003 to al­low work­ers to sue for ha­rass­ment with­out show­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion. This year alone, the Healthy Work­place Bill has made the rounds in 11 states.

Aus­tralia, Bri­tain and Swe­den have laws on the books in­tended to pro­tect against work­place bul­ly­ing.

Cather­ine Mat­tice is pres­i­dent of Ci­vil­ity Part­ners, a cor­po­rate con­sult­ing firm that spe­cial­izes in of­fice bul­ly­ing and “neg­a­tive work­place be­hav­iors. She said the ef­forts at the state level have moved slowly but mark a good step in the right di­rec­tion.

Ne­vada, she noted, is the only U.S. state that has a law against work­place bul­ly­ing — though only for schools. Ne­vada’s law states that nei­ther adults nor stu­dents shall en­gage in bul­ly­ing.

“The fact that they in­cluded adults in that piece is huge,” Ms. Mat­tice said.

Mr. Ya­mada said New York may prove a pi­o­neer, with 79 state leg­is­la­tors sign­ing on to a bill to curb work­place bul­ly­ing.

De­spite ef­forts to ban work­place bul­ly­ing, the is­sue re­mains in a le­gal gray area. Al­though most states have en­acted laws against em­ployee ha­rass­ment, the pre­cise def­i­ni­tion of a hos­tile work en­vi­ron­ment re­mains elu­sive.

Ha­rass­ment, dis­crim­i­na­tion and hos­tile work en­vi­ron­ments are con­sid­ered work­place bul­ly­ing, but fed­eral dis­crim­i­na­tion laws cover only “pro­tected classes,” such as those based on race or gen­der.

“If your bully is an ‘equal-op­por­tu­nity bully,’ then you have no le­gal re­course. Equal-op­por­tu­nity bul­ly­ing is le­gal,” Ms. Mat­tice said.


The Dol­phins’ Richie Incog­nito (68) re­port­edly sent text mes­sages to Jonathan Martin (71) that were racist and threat­en­ing. Incog­nito was sus­pended af­ter Martin left the team.

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