Hostile Work Environment
Are you being subjected to sexual harassment or other form of unwelcomed harassment at the workplace? Have you complained to your supervisors about being sexually harassed at work, and they refuse to do anything to help and stop the illegal conduct? If your answer to either of these questions is yes, you may be working in a hostile work environment in violation of the state and federal law. Our New Jersey sexual harassment attorneys have extensive experience in litigating hostile work environment claims and are available to advice you or your legal rights.New Jersey Law Protects Employees from a Hostile Work Environment
The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against employees on the basis of race, national origin, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, pregnancy and other protected characteristics. Harassing comments or other unwelcomed conduct directed at an employee at work because of his or her protected trait can constitute unlawful harassment and discrimination. However, not every harassing or inappropriate comment directed at an employee at work constitutes unlawful harassment or the creation of an actionable hostile work environment. In determining whether an employee has been subjected to sexual harassment or other form of hostile work environment, our Courts will review the totality of the circumstances to determine whether the harassing conduct violates the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination.
An employer who has knowledge or should have knowledge of the existence of a hostile work environment is obligated to stop the harassment and remediate the unlawful working conditions. The complained of harassment must be based upon a protected trait such as sex, sexual orientation, disability, race or national origin. When an employer fails to take effective measures to stop the illegal harassment that it knows or should know of, New Jersey law considers that the employer has joined the harasser in making the working environment hostile and sending the harassed employee the message that the harassment is acceptable. In enacting the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination our legislature intended to eradicate the cancer of discrimination for workplaces in New Jersey.
Employers are obligated to maintain effective anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies that prevent unlawful harassment and discrimination at the workplace and stop and remediate it when it happens. An effective anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policy must include an unequivocal commitment from the employer that it does not tolerate any form of harassment of discrimination. This unequivocal commitment must be shown in actions and not just in the words of a paper anti-harassment or anti-discrimination policy. The policy should define the types of conduct that is prohibited and that should confirm that everyone in the organization has a role in assuring the work environment is free of discrimination and harassment. The policy must require that supervisors report any complaint or concern of discrimination or harassment to human resources or other designated person who is responsible for investigating claims of discrimination and harassment. An employer must conduct a prompt, thorough and fair investigation into claims of harassment or discrimination and take meaningful action to assure it will not happen again.
In order to establish a claim based upon a hostile work environment under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, an employee must prove that the complained-of harassment:
- would not have occurred but for the employee's protected characteristic (i.e., sex, sexual orientation, gender, race);
- the harassment was severe or pervasive enough to make;
- a reasonable person of the same protected characteristic believe that;
- the conditions of employment have been altered and the working environment is hostile or abusive.
The severe or pervasive test adopted by New Jersey courts to determine whether the employee has been subjected to an unlawful hostile work environment can include a single incident or repeated conduct. While there is no magic number of harassing events or incidents to determine whether the work environment has become unlawful, the complained of conduct must be severe or pervasive enough for a reasonable person of the same protected class to believe the work environment has been hostile and abusive.
New Jersey Courts have recognized that a single utterance of a racial epithet can, under some circumstances, create a hostile work environment. Racial epithets are especially egregious and can engender a severe impact on the victim and the entire workplace. The experience of being called a racial slur at work is instantaneous and can cause irreparable damage. New Jersey hostile work environment law recognizes this reality by allowing victims of harassment from pursuing claims against employers who allow this type of conduct from occurring at the workplace.
Similarly, one instance of sexual harassment, proposition or assault can give rise to a hostile work environment under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination if it is severe enough under the totality of circumstances. An employee in New Jersey does not have to wait until she is subjected to repeated acts of sexual harassment or unwelcomed sexual propositioning in order for there to be a violation of the law. Nor does an employee have to sustain a tangible adverse employment action (e.g. termination, demotion, disciplinary action) because of the sexual harassment in order for her legal rights to have been violated.
If you being subjected to harassment at the workplace and believe you are working in a hostile work environment, it is imperative that you speak to a skilled sexual harassment lawyer to review the specific circumstances of your workplace legal issue. If you would like to speak to one of our New Jersey hostile work environment lawyers, please feel free to contact us to discuss the specific facts of your workplace situation.