Bullying in the Workplace On & Off the Playing Field
Gradually, our collective conscious has been raised regarding the proliferation and effects that bullying has and continues to have in our society. We have become painfully aware through media outlets and personal experience of just how devastating the consequences can be. The act of bullying has resulted in children permanently scaring one another, ruining lives, and even ending lives.
The unfortunate reality of neglecting the childhood bully and his or her bully-victim is that these same children grow into adults who are then more likely to repeat these bullying behaviors as adults. As a result, our national focus has been drawn toward the issue and manner in which adults choose to mistreat one another in the workplace.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines bullying as aggressive behavior that is intentional and involves an imbalance of power or strength. It is generally repeated over time. The Workplace Bullying Institute defines workplace bullying as repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators that takes one or more of the following forms:
- Verbal abuse
- Offensive conduct / behaviors (including nonverbal)
- Work interference (sabotage) that prevents work from getting done
With the recognition that bullying not only takes place on the playground but in the workplace as well, 24 states have introduced bills since 2003 to protect against workplace bullying; however, none have been passed into law. Presently, our Federal Law does not specifically protect an individual against workplace bullying. Instead, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is applied, which makes it unlawful to discriminate in the workplace based upon an individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Over time, Title VII has been expanded to include age, disability, sexual orientation, and hostile work environment. However the law is not designed to be a code for civility, and the threshold to be met in making a claim under the Federal law is quite high. Among the criteria to be proven, the conduct must be so objectively offensive as to unreasonably interfere with a person’s work environment. With this said, one of our most revered national past times has recently become the subject of negative public scrutiny. The sport I refer to is football. Instead of training our eye on the 50-yard line and scoring a touchdown, our attention is drawn to off-field behaviors.
The immediate image one has of a football player is that of an oversized, physically superior and intimidating athlete. Would we ever suspect that such a physically dominant individual could be victimized by a bully? Yet, last month an example of workplace bullying was revealed in the locker room. Miami Dolphins football player, J. Martin alleged that he was the subject of extraordinary and persistent bullying at the hands of his teammate, R. Incognito. Moreover, the team management was accused of condoning such behavior as a means of toughening up its players. The accusations which have been reported highlight the fact that bullying has no boundary and its victims wear many suits, including football helmets and uniforms.
Perhaps an important lesson to be imparted as a result of this most recent example of bullying is that no one person is immune from its effects. Another is the need for vigilance and legislative intervention that serves to create healthy workplace environments both on and off the field.