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Dolphins dysfunction may influence workplace changes

When the news broke that Professional Miami Dolphins Offensive Lineman, Jonathan Martin was accusing fellow Dolphins Offensive Lineman Richie Incognito of bullying, shock-waves traveled through the country. Athletes as a general perception are not known for sensitivity. Undertaking demanding physical feats requires strong mental capability, strength of body need be matched by strength of mind.

Taking on physical opponents, critics, jeering fans, performance pressure- isn't as easy as it may seem. However, how much is just too much? Martin stated that the alleged bullying was threatening, aggressively sexual in nature and flat-out racist. It apparently caused such a mental strain that he had to seek counseling and leave the team. The alleged bully, Incognito, was suspended.

There was almost immediate division in the case. Some felt it was simply misinterpreted "locker room" talk gone awry. Others agreed that it was harassment. Freedom of Speech and Employee Rights were all thrown into the debate.

What Martin reported though is what is called a "Hostile Work Environment" in the professional world. A "hostile" environment can be construed as any situation or action which causes discomfort for an employee which directly affects their state of well being and work performance. It's a very fine line the definition leaves room for different interpretations. Based on a person's perspective, most anything can be construed as "hostile."

For example, a co-worker wearing a religious symbol in the workplace can cause another to feel uncomfortable- contributing to a sense of workplace hostility. In Miami, one familiar complaint is that of co-workers speaking another language in the workplace such as Spanish or Creole, in which case those who do not understand the language are made to feel discomfort leading to the workplace feeling "hostile" because of a sense of being "left out." Martin's case fits the legal definition of an hostile environment as he allegedly could not perform his career responsibilities because of the mental strain from the reported harassment.

Nationwide, there has been an immense movement to raise awareness for victims of bullying as well as teaching tolerance. Most schools have implemented zero tolerance rules when it came to all forms of bullying which has grown to include cyber bullying in proven cases.

However, in workplaces, most people don't report this issue because they feel they can handle it as adults, feelings of embarrassment or simply because it's not recognized as such. With light being shed now on bullying in the workplace, there may be changes to come regarding this factor. Human Resources Departments were created for the interests of the employee and hold the responsibility for implementing and enforcing such rules and regulations. But in various cases, some have ruled them to be "too strict" on relating matters already.

Again, the definition is broad enough to accommodate very different scenarios. Take into consideration the woman who was allegedly fired for wishing people a "Merry Christmas" as opposed to the more politically correct "Happy Holidays" or the lady in Iowa for being "too pretty."

At first glance, both cases may seem over-the-top. But, from another person's perspective, offense can be taken at someone wishing another "Merry Christmas" when they might be of a different religious affiliation. Being "too pretty" or rather dressing too revealingly can cause a distraction in the workplace-and not always of a sexual kind. Someone coming from a culture of modestly and chastity may very well be offended. But then, what about the rights of the Individual?

Usually, to have a case in a hostile workplace, there must be proof of discriminatory behavior based on: age, sex, religion, race and/or disability. The behavior must also be pervasive, meaning it continues over time, leads to disruption of work and/or contributes to lack of advancement such as promotion. An employee facing this would have usually asked the offender to stop or brought this to the attention of Team Leaders or Human Resources, if and when the behavior persists, the employee would then assuredly have a case for a Hostile Workplace.

On both sides of the field, this NFL scandal has gained a lot of attention and support for both players. Siding with Martin, supporters commend his him for speaking out. On the part of Incognito, supporters maintain that he only participated in expected "hazing" and furthermore, how can one grown man, a football player at that, be bullied by another? With growing awareness to this issue, can a balance be created to assure the proper handle on such situations?