Being able to go to work every day and feel safe and comfortable in your work environment shouldn’t be a high expectation. Yet, this is the case for many employees that endure harassment on the job. In New Jersey, and throughout the United States, workplace harassment is illegal. Unfortunately, it is common for such behavior to occur without adequate reprimand from an employer. These ongoing actions can create an uncomfortable, stressful, and even hostile environment at work. It is important to obtain knowledgeable and compassionate legal counsel to pursue your case if you feel that you are being harassed at work. The New Jersey Employment Law attorneys at Castronovo & McKinney will investigate your claim to determine the extent of the inappropriate behavior and take the necessary legal actions.
So, what constitutes harassment? According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), harassment is considered an act of discrimination. Behaviors and actions that you do not welcome and are targeting specific protected classes, such as gender, race and age, are regarded as harassment. Actions, such as unsolicited physical contact, displaying inappropriate pictures, telling offensive jokes, or making threats of using force, can all be considered forms of harassment. However, to meet the federal definition of harassment, you must be in a situation where tolerating the harassment is required to maintain your employment, or the harassment is extensive enough that another individual would view it as intimidating, hostile, or abusive.
New Jersey Workplace Harassment Law
The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) defines and identifies prohibited and discriminatory behavior in New Jersey with respect to employment. Many job-related activities are covered under NJLAD – from recruitment efforts and hiring practices through job performance, compensation, and termination. This state law recognizes a long list of protected categories that must be free from discrimination and harassment.
- National origin
- Marital Status
- Sexual Orientation
- Gender Identity/Expression
- Atypical hereditary cellular or blood trait
- Physical or mental disability
If harassment or discrimination against you in your workplace is based upon any of these categories, the law states that you may have legal recourse against your employer. It’s not necessary that the behavior be overt or purposefully targeted. In some cases, there are neutral employment practices and policies, but in their application, they have an adverse impact on a protected group. Despite the neutral aspect, the adverse effect may make them unlawful. Exceptions exist.
How Harassment and Discrimination Differ
Laws against harassment are based upon anti-discrimination legislation. Legally, harassment is viewed as a specific type of discrimination. Therefore, all unlawful harassing conduct against a worker based on a protected category is a type of discrimination. However, all acts of discrimination in the workplace are not characterized as harassment.
In cases of discrimination, the employer is responsible for ensuring that you don’t receive unfair treatment in job-related activities based on your gender, race, religion or any of the other protected categories. This includes tangible areas, such as being hired or fired, pay, raises, bonuses, promotions, and training opportunities. These decisions may not be based upon a bias against your protected class or category.
Harassment focuses on unwelcome physical and/or verbal actions that you are subjected to because of your inclusion in a protected category. Essentially, you’re targeted for harassment because of your gender, race, religion or other personally identifying category. In cases of harassment, your employer is not always the responsible party. You may need to sue the harasser separately from your employer.
Sexual Harassment vs. Sexual Discrimination
An example of these differences can be demonstrated with a look at sexual harassment vs. sexual discrimination. In a case of sexual harassment, you may be subject to unwanted sexual advances, dirty comments and unwelcome physical contact at your place of work. Even if none of this behavior is tied to your job stability, income, or advancement potential, it may still be viewed as unlawful sexual harassment if the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to detrimentally impact your ability to perform your work.
Another common form of sexual harassment is quid pro quo. In these situations, your manager may make sexual advances and imply or outright state that your job, promotion, or other employment conditions will be adversely impacted if you refuse to comply. While this does involve decisions about tangible job-related terms and conditions, it’s based upon sexual favors, not your gender. It is therefore viewed as harassment, rather than discrimination. However, if you are turned down for a promotion solely because of your gender because of a bias against women, for example, this is a case of sexual discrimination.
Another example of these differences is a bias towards a homosexual or bisexual person. If you are gay or bi and your co-workers, supervisor, or even a vendor, use derogatory language about your sexual preferences, tease or ridicule you, and/or send you emails and texts with insulting and offensive homosexual terms and images, this would likely be viewed as harassment. If, however, your unfair treatment is limited to being turned down for a job, passed over for promotion or fired because your supervisor or potential employer learns of your sexual preference and has a bias against it, your cause of action would be based upon acts of discrimination.
Types of Workplace Harassment and Discrimination
Workplace discrimination and harassment cover several broad categories.
- Age Discrimination
- Disability Discrimination
- Pregnancy Discrimination
- Sexual Orientation Discrimination
- Racial & National Origin Discrimination
- Religious Discrimination
Examples of Workplace Harassment
Because there are so many protected categories and discriminatory behavior can apply in a wide range of job-related stages and activities, it would be impossible to give examples for every situation here. However, these are a few common situations that demonstrate some instances of harassment in employment situations.
Sexual harassment is the most common form of workplace harassment, and there are many ways you can be harassed in this manner. Examples include repeated sexual advancements from supervisors or co-workers, being shown pornography and told dirty jokes, having someone you work with expose himself or herself to you, and being subjected to unwelcome rubbing or massages.
In all these examples, the severity and/or pervasiveness of the hostile conduct is weighed to assess whether it rises to the level of unlawful behavior. Any reasonable person should also view the harassment as threatening, offensive, or abusive to help make a determination.
Fighting for your Rights
It is important to keep in mind that harassment isn’t just unlawful, it’s unethical. And, if your employer does not fix the problem, it’s a direct reflection of his or her character. Your employer has a responsibility to discourage harassment in the workplace. Whether the unwelcome behavior comes from a co-worker, a supervisor, or a client, corrective or preventative measures should be taken by your employer. If not, you may be eligible for compensation.
At the New Jersey offices of Castronovo & McKinney, our lawyers specialize in litigation focusing in the varying areas of employment law. Being able to maintain your job, while feeling safe and comfortable, should be a necessity for daily life. The New Jersey Employment attorneys at Castronovo & McKinney will argue your harassment case with tenacity while remaining sensitive to your experiences. Contact us immediately if you feel that you are being harassed at work.