Harassment & Hostile Work Environment
Employers in New Jersey and New York have an obligation to provide a workplace that is free from harassment. Indeed, both federal and state law prohibit harassment based on your race, age, gender, pregnancy, mental or physical disability, religion, color, national origin, sexual orientation, military/veteran status, or any other protected category. Harassment is illegal when it creates a hostile work environment and would cause a reasonable person of the same protected category to feel humiliated or intimidated such that the terms and conditions of employment are altered.
Like discrimination, however, harassment is only unlawful in New Jersey and New York if it is based on a legally protected category, such as your race, age, sex (gender), pregnancy, mental or physical disability, religion, color, national origin, sexual orientation, or military/veteran status. Accordingly, “equal opportunity offenders,” or bosses that equally mistreat all employees regardless of their protected categories, generally speaking, may not be guilty of unlawful workplace harassment, depending on the circumstances.
To be legally actionable in New Jersey and New York, workplace harassment also has to be “severe” or “pervasive.” Severity deals with offensiveness of the act(s) in question, while pervasiveness deals with their frequency. As a result, one extremely severe act of harassment, or a series of relatively minor actions, can create a hostile work environment, and therefore can be legally actionable harassment. However, a limited number of relatively minor acts might not be enough to give rise to a harassment claim.
Examples of actions which can be part of a hostile work environment can include physical touching and assaults, inappropriate or insulting comments and jokes, racial, sexual or other epithets, explicit emails or pictures, excessive yelling, screaming or swearing, less desirable job assignments, undeserved verbal or written reprimands, and other offensive or demeaning conduct that is motivated by your race, age, gender, pregnancy, mental or physical disability, religion, color, national origin, sexual orientation, military status, or any other protected category.
Harassment need not be committed by a supervisor or manager in order to be actionable. Employers have an obligation to protect employees from all forms of workplace harassment, and under certain circumstances, employers may be held liable for the actions of non-supervisory co-workers who commit harassment.
Sexual harassment is one of the most common types of unlawful workplace harassment. Sexual harassment is actually harassment due to your gender or sexual preference. It occurs when an employee is subjected to unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature. There are different types of sexual harassment. For more information, please see our sexual harassment page.
If you believe that you have suffered from workplace harassment and/or a hostile work environment, please contact a New Jersey or New York employment attorney online, or call us to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced employment lawyers . We have offices in Essex County, New Jersey and New York City