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By: Jennifer Miller
The sports world is abuzz with news that Richie Incognito allegedly bullied his fellow Dolphins teammate Jonathan Martin. According to some reports, Martin received “threatening, racially-charged texts and voicemails” from Incognito.
Stories like this should remind all employers that, no matter their business, improper conduct by one employee against another can always be an issue. If such conduct is sufficiently severe and pervasive, the employer could be held liable under federal employment laws, such as Title VII, for hostile work environment. Further, employees can also try to hold their employers liable under state law. While offensive comments alone may not be enough to impose liability, it is important to note that this does not prevent an employee from filing a charge with the EEOC or bringing suit—costing the employer time and money. Regardless, as the Dolphins are now aware, an employer may face significant backlash in the court of public opinion and experience harm to its reputation thanks to social media.
In an attempt to prevent and mitigate these risks, employers should have in place anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies, which explain that discrimination and harassment will not be tolerated. Additionally, anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies should include clear reporting procedures that employees need to follow if they believe they have been subjected to harassment or discrimination. Not only should employers have these policies in place and memorialized in their employee handbooks, but employers need to explain these policies to employees during periodic training.