Workplace Bullying: Podcast Examines Steps Employers Can Take

Author: David B. Weisenfeld, XpertHR Legal Editor

May 12, 2014

The rising issue of workplace bullying took center stage last fall when then-Miami Dolphins offensive lineman Jonathan Martin abruptly left the team in mid-season, claiming teammates had engaged in persistent harassment, including alleged racial slurs. The Dolphins eventually traded Martin rather than have him return.

While a National Football League locker-room may not resemble a typical workplace, workplace harassment and a "boys will be boys" mentality is hardly unique. As many as one in four employees are harassed, threatened or attacked at work. There are also more than 1.5 million victims of workplace violence each year.

Indianapolis employment attorney Jeffrey Beck, a partner with Faegre Baker Daniels, appears on a new XpertHR podcast to discuss this troubling trend and the steps an employer can take to keep its facility bully free. According to Beck, these steps include:

  • Implementing a policy;
  • Effective training;
  • Having multiple ways to report complaints;
  • A worksite risk assessment (e.g., "Are your employees working in isolated locations?"); and
  • Following through with discipline.

Beck adds that an employer's policy should state that any discourteous and disrespectful behavior in the workplace is unacceptable. "The overriding theme is management commitment," Beck says. "Management has to follow through to enforce its policy and document any issues."

In the Dolphins case, the Indianapolis attorney says his perception was that the organization was always in "reactive mode" and did not have a good structure or reporting mechanism. He notes that it is important for employees to feel comfortable coming forward to report a workplace bullying incident.

Beck advises employers, "As soon as you have a reason to believe bullying or threatening behavior has occurred, then you have to really dig in and investigate."

He also addresses workplace violence and steps employers can take to prevent such incidents, which are the leading cause of workplace fatalities among women. A failure to recognize the warning signs of aggressive or potentially violent behavior is the biggest mistake Beck sees in this area. "Reducing the risk of bullying or harassment is not a one-person job," Beck says. "It's something you have to get employees to buy into and they need to know what to do if they spot that behavior."