What You Need To Know About Workplace Harassment
Not all workplace harassment is unlawful. Only harassment that causes a hostile work environment (as defined by the law) is illegal. The legal definition of unlawful harassment is workplace conduct by a supervisor or co-worker (or under certain circumstances, a third party such as a vendor or customer) that is directed at an employee because of a discriminatory or retaliatory motive and is severe or pervasive enough to cause a reasonable person of the same legally protected characteristic as the targeted employee to believe that the conditions of employment have changed to make the work environment hostile. That’s a mouthful! So, let’s unpack that and restate it in plain English.
Many people think that a hostile work environment is any workplace that is unpleasant. That is not the case under the law. An unlawful hostile work environment is one in which the hostility is directed at the employee because of a legally prohibited discriminatory or retaliatory motive.
In New Jersey, it is unlawful for an employer to treat an employee differently because of that employee’s age, disability, gender, pregnancy, sexual orientation, gender identity, race, color, ancestry, nationality, national origin, religion, marital status, civil union status, domestic partnership status or military service. Harassment is illegal only if the employee is targeted based on one of these legally protected characteristics (or in retaliation for legally protected conduct, which is addressed on other pages of this website).
Severe Or Pervasive
Not all harassment that is directed at an employee because of a legally protected characteristic is serious enough to make a legal claim of a hostile work environment. The conduct must be severe or pervasive. “Severe” refers to one or more incidents that are particularly bad. Under New Jersey law, even a single incident of harassment is unlawful if it is serious enough. “Pervasive” refers to many incidents occurring regularly that are not that bad when considered by themselves but when taken together create a hostile work environment due to the frequency with which they occur.
Reasonable Person Standard
Under New Jersey law, whether the harassment is bad enough to create a hostile work environment is judged based on how a reasonable person of the same legally protected characteristic as the harassed employee would feel. So, for example, if a case involves a claim of harassment by an older employee, the standard is whether a reasonable older person would have found the work environment to be hostile.
Facing Age Discrimination, Disability Discrimination Or Sexual Orientation Discrimination
If you are being or have been harassed at work because of any protected characteristic, call the harassment claims attorneys at Lenzo & Reis, LLC, at 973-821-3723. We represent employees who have been harassed at work in Newark, Jersey City and Morristown, and throughout New Jersey, and can also be reached by completing our online form.