The report commissioned by the NFL to look into allegations of bullying raised by former Dolphins teammate Jonathan Martin by offensive lineman Richie Incognito was completed last week. (Click here to see the 144 page report) It concluded that three offensive linemen (apt titles, yes?) engaged in a pattern of bullying and harassment towards Martin and two others. The New York Times summed up the findings nicely: It determined, at bottom, that the harassment of Martin resembled “a classic case of bullying, where persons who are in a position of power harass the less powerful.”
There are many lessons to be learned from this case for workplace investigators, HR professionals, and employers. Here are a few:
- Bullying is a real thing with tangible consequences. It’s been a “hot topic” for HR for some time now, and this case will certainly contribute to our national conversation on it.
- Workplace culture is critical when it comes to defining an organization and its success, both perceived and actual. Its importance cannot be overstated. HR leaders and business owners should pay attention to it upfront, so as not to be caught unawares. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross is probably wishing he had done so.
- This investigation, headed by attorney Ted Wells at Paul, Weiss, shows us what “thorough” really means. Wells and his team interviewed over 100 witnesses and reviewed countless emails and text messages. No one can claim this was a rush job.
- Notwithstanding the thoroughness of the investigation, its findings are not immune from dispute. Incognito’s lawyer claims Wells got it all wrong. This is common in investigations – the party against whom the findings are made disputes the findings. What can a workplace investigator do? Expect disagreement and dissatisfaction, and take comfort in the process. Workplace investigators are not likely to win any popularity contests anytime soon. That’s not why we do what we do.
It will be fascinating to see how the NFL responds. It has indicated it will do so after reviewing the report, “as appropriate.” The report’s recommendation is pretty simple: “We encourage the creation of new workplace conduct rules and guidelines that will help ensure that players respect each other as professionals and people” (emphasis added).