By Shaan A. Rizvi — Over the last few weeks, sports media have incessantly covered the bullying scandal involving Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin, two current Miami Dolphins’ players, in which Incognito left threatening and abusive comments on Martin’s voicemail. Incognito contends the comments were in jest, but the comments led Martin to take a leave of absence from the team. Though there are no winners in this situation, the entire incident has stirred spirited discussion about what exactly constitutes “bullying” in sports and in the workplace and what should be done about it.
Currently, California is the only state that legally prohibits workplace bullying. However, according to the Healthy Workplace Campaign, 11 other states are considering similar measures. One such law in New York would make it illegal for an employer, “acting with intent to cause pain or distress to an employee, [to] subject [an] employee to abusive conduct that causes physical harm, psychological harm or both.” The law defines “abusive conduct” as acts “that a reasonable personal would find abusive” including “verbal … or physical conduct of a threatening, intimidating or humiliating nature.”
Clearly, the definition of “bullying” is murky, and laws such as these may drastically increase an employer’s potential workplace liability for perceived slights or insults in the workplace original new balance 410. Even though workplace bullying laws aren’t yet on the books in most states, employers may still be liable for workplace bullying under other legal theories, such as harassment, discrimination or negligent hiring. Remember – what an employee calls bullying, their lawyer will call harassment or retaliation just to get in the door at the court house.