Hazing incidents continue to be a national concern. Recently, lawsuits have been filed against Northwestern University accusing the school of ignoring hazing incidents in its football and other sports programs.
This scandal highlights a serious problem within sports that also extends far beyond sports and into the workplace. Employers need to pay attention to employee conduct and ensure a safe environment that is free of hazing and bullying.
The Hazing Incidents at Northwestern
In early July 2023, Northwestern fired its longtime head football coach, Pat Fitzgerald following an investigation into hazing allegations. Days later, Northwestern fired its head baseball coach, Jim Foster, amid an investigation into hazing allegations against him. Multiple lawsuits have been filed by student athletes against the university.
One lawsuit was filed by former Northwestern quarterback Lloyd Yates, alleging hazing that included sexual abuse. In another lawsuit, a former female volleyball player alleges that Northwestern officials failed to properly address a 2021 incident. The former volleyball player alleges she faced hazing, harassment, bullying, and retaliation while on Northwestern’s volleyball team. In the most recent lawsuit, a former offensive lineman, the only Latino offensive lineman on the team at the time, alleges that Northwestern upperclassmen shaved “Cinco de Mayo” onto the back of his head as the entire football team watched.
Northwestern’s woes will likely grow as lawyers representing the student athletes announced plans to file additional lawsuits over the coming weeks. These lawsuits may include hazing incidents involving other schools’ athletic programs.
Bullying in the Workplace: Tips for Employers
Employers have a legal duty to ensure a healthy and safe work environment. Thus, it is important to foster an inclusive and respectful culture within their organizations.
In light of the serious concerns raised by the incidents at Northwestern, below are practical tips for employers to consider:
- Transparent Policies against Hazing and Bullying
Clear and transparent policies against hazing and bullying are crucial to prevent their occurrence. In doing so, establish policies that explicitly condemn hazing and bullying behaviors. Also, make it clear that such actions will lead to severe consequences, including termination or legal action.
- Encourage Reporting
In many hazing cases, victims remain silent due to fear of retaliation or a belief that reporting will not yield results. Therefore, employers should establish channels that allow employees to report hazing and bullying incidents anonymously and without fear of retribution.
- Leadership Sets the Tone
A leaders behavior significantly influences the overall culture within an organization. Ensure that employers set a positive example by demonstrating respectful and inclusive behavior.
The hazing incidents at Northwestern serve as a stark reminder of the dangers of fostering a toxic and unsafe environment within any organization. Employers can draw valuable lessons from these incidents to create a workplace culture built on respect, inclusivity, and empathy. By implementing clear policies, encouraging reporting, and leading by example, employers can help prevent hazing and bullying in the workplace.