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New Jersey employers are legally bound to provide a workplace environment that is free from harassment. Federal and New Jersey state law prohibit harassment based on race, age, gender, pregnancy, mental or physical disability, religion, color, national origin, sexual orientation, military/veteran status, or any other protected category. Harassment within the workplace becomes illegal and actionable when it becomes severe or pervasive thereby creating a hostile work environment that would cause a reasonable person similarly situated to feel humiliated or intimidated such that the terms and conditions of employment are altered.
It is important to remember, however, discrimination is only actionable when it is based on a legally protected category, such as your race, age, gender, sex, pregnancy, mental or physical disability, religion, color, national origin, sexual orientation, or military/veteran status.
Additionally, discriminatory conduct must be “severe” or “pervasive.” Severity deals with the level of the offensives of the act, while pervasiveness addresses the frequency of the conduct. Thus, one very extremely act of harassment or a series of relatively minor actions can create a hostile work environment.
A hostile work environment can arise as a result of physical touching and assaults, inappropriate or insulting comments and jokes, racial slurs, sexual innuendos 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 which 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 can be committed by a supervisor, manager or co-worker. Additionally, the employer has a legal 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 if they do not have a policy in place prohibiting such conduct and do not take reasonable steps to eliminate the specific conduct if the employer is or should be aware that the conduct is occurring.
If you believe that you have suffered from workplace harassment, please contact us to schedule a consultation with one of our experience employment attorneys, Leslie Parikh or Brian Flanagan. If you are an employer and do not have a policy in place prohibiting unlawful discrimination or would like further guidance on how to prevent unlawful harassment from occurring in the workplace, we offer training seminars and draft employee handbooks for small companies which have become a fundamental tool in safeguarding the workplace from unlawful conduct.
For more information or to set up a consultation with a lawyer at Gebhardt & Kiefer, P.C., call 908-735-5161, or contact us by e-mail. With offices in Clinton Township (Annandale) and Bridgewater, our firm serves clients throughout central and northwestern New Jersey.