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The NFL isn't just sport or entertainment, it's a workplace too

Football is a sport that is watched by millions of Americans, some of which reside in New Jersey. Fans cheer for their favorite team as they battle their opponent. Sunday get-togethers in the fall are often even centered on the day’s game, and party-goers dress up in their team’s colors.

It is a sport, it is entertainment, but the National Football League is also a workplace for the players that participate in it. It is easy to forget this fact, but the recent situation involving Jonathan Martin and the alleged harassment in the locker room and on cellphone messages has made this clear once again.

What is interesting to note, is that Martin’s mother actually wrote a column in USA TODAY just over a decade ago that addressed exactly this topic. The Dec. 18, 2002, article was focused on how employers can prevent or at least limit the instances of harassment, whether based on gender, race, religion or any other protected class.

Jane Howard-Martin’s suggestions to employers included drafting a clear policy that sets a zero tolerance standard for harassment situations. What terms would she include in her policy? Ones that address consensual romantic relationships, discourage intimate relationships between supervisors and subordinates, reporting processes that protect the complainant and a clear investigative procedure.

Next, the company should develop an internal structure for overseeing harassment-prevention. Most importantly, she reminded employers that these policies are only effective when enforced. An unenforced policy could leave workers as exposed to harassment as a workplace with no policy in place at all.

The key here is to ensure that a place of employment is free of workplace harassment, but unfortunately, employees are often forced to earn a living in a hostile work environment. In these cases, an employee should know that an employer can be held accountable in an employment lawsuit.

Source: USA TODAY, “Stop workplace harassment in your company,” Jane Howard-Martin, Nov. 14, 2013

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