New Jersey headlines made national news this week with the report that a local school district agreed to pay a teacher $325,000 to settle a claim that her employer violated her free speech rights. While this case focused on free speech claims, the details of the story may have you wondering about harassment in the workplace. What are examples of harassment and what can you do if you think you are being harassed in the workplace?
What is Harassment in the Workplace?
Harassment is a form of employment discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, (ADEA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, (ADA). Harassment is unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.
New Jersey employers and employees also must abide by the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD). The protections available under the LAD are broader and more inclusive than federal law. The LAD protects the same classes under federal law and also protects against discrimination based on ancestry, sexual orientation, services in the armed forces, atypical hereditary cellular or blood trait, marital status, domestic partnership status and civil union status.
Harassment becomes unlawful when the employee is forced to endure the offensive conduct as a condition of continued employment, or when the conduct is so egregious or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive. Anti-discrimination laws also prohibit harassment against individuals in retaliation for filing a discrimination charge, testifying, or participating in any way in an investigation or lawsuit under these laws. Further, employers cannot grass or retaliate against individuals who oppose employment practices that they reasonably believe discriminate against individuals, in violation of these laws.
What Are Examples of Workplace Harassment?
Workplace harassment comes in a variety of forms. While many people think of egregious examples of harassment, even subtle forms of jokes or innuendo can constitute harassment. Examples of workplace harassment include:
- Verbal harassment such as offensive jokes, slurs, epithets or name calling, physical assaults or threats, intimidation, ridicule or mockery, insults or put-downs, offensive objects or pictures, and interference with work performance.
- Cyberbullying could include these same types of insults but they are done online whether publicly or through an employer’s internal networks
- Sexual harassment such as inappropriate touching, sexual jokes, sharing pornography, sending sexual messages, or requiring sexual favors in exchange for a promotion or job security.
Harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances, including, but not limited to, the following: The harasser can be the victim's supervisor, a supervisor in another area, an agent of the employer, a co-worker, or a non-employee. The victim does not have to be the person harassed, but can be anyone affected by the offensive conduct. Lastly, unlawful harassment does not necessarily require economic loss for the victim.
What to Do If You Think You are a Victim of Workplace Harassment
Your first course of action for employees should inform the harasser directly that the conduct is unwelcome and must stop. If you do not feel comfortable doing so or if the behavior does not stop, employees should also report harassment to management or HR as soon as possible. Your employer should thoroughly investigate your complaint.
Employers are automatically liable for harassment by a supervisor that results in a negative employment action such as termination, failure to promote or hire, and loss of wages. Additionally, the employer will be liable for harassment by non-supervisory employees or non-employees over whom it has control (e.g., independent contractors or customers on the premises), if it knew, or should have known about the harassment and failed to take prompt and appropriate corrective action.
Legal Help for Workplace Harassment
If harassment does not stop or if you are suffering retaliation from reporting workplace harassment, an employment attorney may be able to help. Employment attorneys focus on protecting you from discrimination, sexual harassment, wage violations, and more.
The award-winning employment attorneys at Brandon J. Broderick, Attorney at Law, bring together our knowledge and insight to construct a strong case for our clients and maximize any future settlements. Thanks to our teamwork and extensive familiarity with both state and federal employment laws, we can take on essentially any employment law case for you. Contact us today for a free consultation.