Why Richie Incognito and Bryan Cranston can behave badly, but you can't

Richie Incognito, in 2009.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

(MoneyWatch) Miami Dolphin players are reported concerned about the potential return of Jonathan Martin. And who wouldn't be? He reportedly treated teammate Richie Incognito horribly, including leaving a foul, racist and abusive message on his voice mail.

Oh wait, that's backwards. Incognito left that on Martin's voice mail, not the other way around.Incognito is the one who acted like a jerk, so why are the teammates concerned about the victim returning? And why is ESPN reporting that the other Miami Dolphin players are providing "overwhelming" support for Incognito, as well as blaming Martin for the media storm?

To be certain, if Martin hadn't alerted the media, none of this would have come out. But, if Incognito had acted politely none of this would have happened either. I'm guessing that Incognito isn't the only one to engage in this type of behavior. It was probably par for the course in the Dolphin's locker room. Therefore, to them, it's not about doing something, it's about getting caught.

I don't pretend to understand the dynamics of a professional sports team. In fact, I don't even watch professional sports. But, I do watch television and much of the same "unprofessional" behavior seems to take place on the set of films. For instance, the star of Breaking Bad, Bryan Cranston, is very open about the practical jokes involving sex toys that he played on his fellow cast members.

Now, if you call up a coworker and use multiple bad words and threaten death, you'll be fired and possibly arrested. Additionally, if you bring a sex toy into the office and try to trick a coworker into handling it, you'll likely be fired as well. Why do the rich and famous get away with it?

Well, in the case of Richie Incognito, I don't think anyone is claiming he actually meant to do his teammate actual harm. Which means he was just being a jerk and a bully. This behavior was, apparently encouraged by his coaches (read: bosses) who wanted him to "toughen" Martin up. Therefore, Incognito didn't torment Martin because of his race, sex, religion or other protected characteristic. He did it to make him part of the team. None of this is illegal.

Being a jerk and a bully is legal, and because it's so difficult to define and regulate, should remain legal. But what about Cranston's "sexual harassment'"? Well, sexual conduct is only illegal if it's "unwanted." Judging by how his costars (read: coworkers) reacted and joked about it themselves in interviews, it wasn't unwanted.

Weird world we live in.

For us normal humans (and sports teams and television producers should take note), this behavior may be, technically, legal, but it is wrong. It should stop. No one, regardless, of how rich they are, or what sports they play, should be subject to humiliating behavior. Someone shouldn't have to hire an attorney or go to the media to be treated with respect.

Employment attorney, Jon Hyman, reminds employers that if they don't take bad behavior seriously, they may be subject to onerous legislation. He writes:

Just because it's legal, however, doesn't make it right. The question is not whether the law protects the bullied, but instead how you should respond when it happens in your business. If you want to lose well-performing, productive workers, then allow them to be pushed out the door by intolerable co-workers. If you want state legislatures to pass workplace bullying legislation, then ignore the issue in your business. If you want to be sued by every employee who is looked at funny or at whose direction a harsh word is uttered, then continue to tolerate abusive employees. The reality is that if companies do not take this issue seriously, state legislators will. The high-profile case of Jonathan Martin will only help the cause of those who believe we need workplace anti-bullying laws.

Employers need to take this bad behavior seriously and put a stop to it. Regardless of how famous the person doing it is.