Last fall, a frustrated NFL lineman slammed down a plate of spaghetti at his team's cafeteria, stormed out, and quit the team. He felt he'd been the target of harassment, and he'd had enough. Last week, a report was released that concluded:
"... the harassment by Martin's teammates was a contributing factor in his decision to leave the team, but also finds that Martin's teammates did not intend to drive Martin from the team or cause him lasting emotional injury."
You can get the full story at ESPN.
Being unabashed football fans (our long-suffering Seahawks just won the Super Bowl!), we've heard enough rumors and stories to find this story awful and yet not entirely surprising.
As managers, we found the focus on intent most interesting.
Harassment Intent Doesn't Matter, Effect Does
When it comes to workplace harassment, intent to cause harm will certainly make the situation worse. But intent to harm isn't the threshold you and your fleet need to worry about. Harassment lawsuits are about the effect of words and actions. Harmful intent makes the consequences worse, but absence of that intent doesn't absolve the fleet of liability.
If you throw a rock off a bridge and it hits someone accidentally, they still have a dent in their head even if you didn't intend it. There are laws against that. By the same token, if you toss out an offensive or tasteless joke, it's possibly you'll make a coworker feel objectified or that you're judging them due to their race, gender, religion, etc. Even if you didn't intend it. And that's why we have laws about harassment and discrimination.
Training to Prevent and Handle Harassment
As a frontline manager, hopefully you have a HR person who can help you. Whether you do or don't, harassment training for managers is in order.
We've just released a new product that focuses on training for fleet managers. It's not for drivers — it includes training for harassment, reasonable suspicion, ride-along performance evaluations, forklift evaluations, and dealing with an active shooter. For a list of lessons and topics covered, visit our list of fleet manager courses.
As you know, there are some DOT-required courses for fleet managers, namely reasonable suspicion. And the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission strongly recommends training to prevent and deal with harassment, discrimination and retaliation. If there's a lawsuit against your fleet and you’ve not offered this training to managers, it may hurt your dealings with the government regulators in some states.
Harassment Cases Have a Lot of Grey Area
With this NFL case, like any harassment or discrimination accusation, there's a lot of grey area. You've seen people blame the accuser for not "handling it like a man." And granted, this is the NFL and there's a lot of loud, shrill sports "personalities" with time to fill. But even in your workplace, if there's an accusation, the best thing you can do is to handle it quickly and take it seriously.