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Work Environment / Harassment FAQs

What is a hostile work environment?

A hostile work environment under NJ law occurs when, as a result of discrimination or retaliation, an employee is subjected to harassment that is sufficiently severe or pervasive such that a reasonable person in the employee’s position would feel that the terms and conditions of employment have been altered. A hostile work environment may be caused by harassing conduct or speech, but there must be a discriminatory or retaliatory intent. In other words, to qualify as a hostile work environment, the harassment at issue must single out an employee or group of employees because of a protected class (discrimination) or because of engaging in protected activity (retaliation). Protected classes include gender, race, color, age, disability, sexual orientation, national origin, pregnancy, and other categories or traits, as applicable under state and/or federal law. An employee engages in protected activity when he or she complains about, objects to, refuses to participate in, testifies about, or discloses or threatens to disclose discrimination or some other conduct that the employee reasonably believes to be a violation of the law (including fraud and safety violations), or that the employee reasonably believes runs contrary to public policy.

If the negative treatment is for reasons other than discrimination or retaliation, the impacted employee may have a claim for something other than hostile work environment. If you feel you have been the victim of a hostile work environment or other treatment in the workplace that is inappropriate, the best thing to do is to contact a NJ employment lawyer for a consultation.

What is workplace harassment?

Harassment and hostile work environment go hand-in-hand. From a legal perspective in NJ, they refer to the same claim. Harassment is the conduct that creates a hostile work environment. In order to qualify as harassment from a NJ employment law perspective, however, the treatment at issue must stem from discrimination or retaliation. Harassment can take many forms, racial harassment, age-based harassment, sexual harassment, retaliatory harassment, etc. Please review the prior FAQ regarding hostile work environment for more details.

What is sexual harassment?

There are two types of sexual harassment -- hostile work environment sexual harassment and quid pro quo (or “this for that”) sexual harassment. Hostile work environment sexual harassment occurs when an employee is subjected to severe or pervasive conduct, because of or involving sex, such that a reasonable person in the employee’s position would feel that the terms and conditions of employment have been altered. Examples may include sexual comments, unwelcomed touching, and/or explicit jokes or postings. Quid pro quo (or “this for that”) sexual harassment occurs when a supervisor makes an advance toward an employee and impliedly or expressly conditions that employee’s success in his or her job on accepting the advance. For example, it is unlawful in New Jersey for a supervisor to require an employee to go out on a date or to have sex in exchange for continued employment, a raise, or favorable treatment.

What should I do if I am being harassed at work?

You should immediately contact an employment lawyer for a consultation, and bring with you a copy of your employer’s employee handbook (or separate policy against discrimination and harassment), if you have it. Meeting with an employment attorney does not necessarily mean that you are filing a lawsuit. A lawyer can be helpful in explaining to you what your rights and options are, so that you can make an informed decision about what approach best meets your individual goals. You should also carefully review the company’s policy against discrimination and harassment, if there is one. Some employers require that discrimination and harassment be promptly reported to Human Resources, a supervisor, or other designee.

What if I am being bullied at work?

While there are no New Jersey or federal statutes that directly deal with bullying in the workplace, you should nevertheless contact a NJ employment lawyer. Sometimes, bullying behavior can trigger tort claims or claims under statutes that deal with worker safety, discrimination, retaliation, or other employee rights.

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