On the Job, On the Field – Bullying in Sport

by K&L Gates LLP

Recent events in the United States have again brought the issue of workplace bullying to international attention. However, in contrast to many other cases, this recent issue arose in the context of a sporting team where it is alleged that a young player was a victim of 'hazing', namely that he was bullied and harassed as a way of initiating him into the culture of the team. With the new anti-bullying amendments to the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (FW Act) due to commence on 1 January 2014, this case should remind sporting clubs and similar organisations that even though the sporting field is not your average workplace, it is still subject to workplace legislation.

The Incident

In late October, a young player with the Miami Dolphins, a National Football League (NFL) franchise, left the team in order to deal with 'emotional issues' following allegations he was bullied over a period of time by a senior player. The allegations of bullying included that the younger player was verbally threatened and physically intimidated by the senior player. The senior player has since been suspended from the team indefinitely as a result of his alleged conduct. An independent investigation has been commissioned.

What Does This Mean for Australian Sport?

Professional sporting clubs have a unique culture where success on the field is directly related to a feeling of mateship and togetherness between the players on and off the field. While the sense of community promoted by team sports is seen by many as a positive thing, in certain circumstances it can manifest itself in the 'hazing' or 'bullying' of players to induct them into the close knit fabric of the 'team'. In addition, coaches sometimes employ bullying tactics to challenge their players and get the best possible results on the field.

While such conduct is often written off as 'bonding' or 'tough love', sporting clubs and similar organisations need to be aware that their players are still employees and the club is a workplace environment susceptible to all the legal risks associated with other workplaces. The amendments to the FW Act include a variety of anti-bullying provisions which will apply to sporting organisations, their staff, coaches and players.

Bullying in the Workplace

The Fair Work Amendment Act 2013 (Cth) (Amendment) seeks to add new provisions to the FW Act enabling a worker who is bullied at work to apply to the Fair Work Commission (Commission) for an order to stop the bullying. For the avoidance of any doubt, an athlete employed by a sporting organisation is a 'worker' within the meaning of the Amendment.

Under the Amendment, a worker is "bullied at work" when he or she is subject to "repeated, unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers, of which the worker is a member, that creates a risk to health and safety".

The Commission will be required to list an application for an order to stop bullying within 14 days of that application being made and will have the power to make whatever order it deems appropriate, other than a pecuniary penalty order, to prevent the bullying from continuing.

Importantly, the Amendment also seeks to remove the prohibition on multiple actions, meaning proceedings may still be commenced under the relevant state based work health and safety legislation in relation to incidents of bullying even though the employee has made an application under the FW Act seeking an order to stop the same conduct. The Commission may also refer a matter to a work health and safety regulator where it considers it necessary and appropriate.

What Should Sporting Clubs and Organisations Do?

Recently, there has been a rise in the number of bullying claims made by employees across all industries. It is important that employees, including coaches and players, are made aware of the ramifications of bullying behaviour and that sporting organisations take positive steps to ensure they foster a strong anti-bullying culture which includes all coaching, playing and administrative staff.

Sporting clubs and similar organisations should ensure that:

  • they have an anti-bullying policy in place that reflects the upcoming Amendments
  • anti-bullying training is conducted for all employees, including managers, coaches and players
  • procedures for conducting investigations into allegations of bullying result in issues being dealt with appropriately and resolved in the best interests of the parties.

Sporting organisations rely on success on the field to ensure their commercial success. By not taking steps to ensure your organisation has appropriate policies and training aimed at ensuring players and administrative staff can identify and curtail bullying behaviour, your organisation may be putting itself at risk.


DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© K&L Gates LLP | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

K&L Gates LLP

K&L Gates LLP on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.