Harassment in the Workplace – When Enough Is Enough

For many Americans, the workplace is where they spend most of their waking hours. It’s where people meet not only to work, but to talk, make friends, socialize, and develop both personally and professionally. It is the responsibility of the employer to ensure that the work environment is free from harassment, and New Jersey has enacted legislation to ensure that employers fulfill their responsibilities to their employees.

Who is Protected?

The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) makes it unlawful to subject people to differential treatment based on race, creed, color, national origin, nationality, ancestry, age, sex (including pregnancy), familial status, marital status, domestic partnership or civil union status, affectional or sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, atypical hereditary cellular or blood trait, genetic information, liability for military service, and mental or physical disability, perceived disability, and AIDS and HIV status. However, simply because someone is treated differently due to one of these statuses it may not be enough to bring a harassment claim. The harassment must also be severe and pervasive.

What is Severe Harassment?

There is no bright line to determine what conduct is severe enough to constitute harassment, but there are a number of factors that, when considered together, may comprise actionable harassment. This is often described as a “totality of the circumstances” approach. For instance, words alone probably are not harassment in the eyes of the court, unless they amount to a vulgar or humiliating level. If words are combined with unwanted physical contact, a harassment claim is much more likely to be successful.

Overt sexual harassment, such as explicit remarks made to an employee combined with sexual motions, are more likely to be severe. For instance, putting sexually explicit pictures in an employee’s locker and repeatedly making sexual statements to the employee will constitute severe harassment.

How Pervasive Does It Need to Be?

Pervasive harassment is less offensive conduct that occurs on a constant basis over a longer amount of time. Along with severe harassment, the reviewing court will consider whether the harassment is serious enough that it changes the working conditions and environment for the employees. For instance, pervasive harassment could occur when a supervisor makes sexually or racially inappropriate comments a few times every month over the course of a year. If the supervisor’s conduct creates an atmosphere at work that makes it more difficult for the employee to fulfill his or her job, this may be pervasive harassment. Generally, the more often the harassment takes place, the more likely the court will find it is pervasive enough to be actionable.

Call a New Jersey Harassment Attorney for Help

As can be seen here, workplace harassment cases are often complex and difficult to prove. If you believe you have been a victim of workplace harassment, then contact an attorney immediately to determine whether you have a viable claim. The law firm of John J. Zidziunas & Associates has a team of New Jersey harassment attorneys available to confidentially review your case. For further information, call 973-509-8500, email info@jjzlawfirm.com, or visit http://employmentdiscrimination.com/.