Workplace harassment can take many forms, but it is essentially workplace conduct by supervisors and/or co-workers that is directed at an employee because of the employee’s legally protected status (such as gender, race, age, or disability) and negatively affects an employee’s work environment.
When New Jersey courts are asked to decide whether harassment is serious enough to violate the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, they utilize what is known as a "severe or pervasive" test.
What Constitutes a Hostile Work Environment in NJ?
The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) makes it illegal to discriminate in the workplace based on a person’s race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, disability, or veteran status. In addition, employers are expected to take reasonable steps to prevent and investigate all workplace harassment claims. Under this law, a hostile work environment can include both retaliatory actions by the employer and active harassment from a coworker or supervisor. Suggestive or lewd comments, catcalling, unwanted physical advances, and manipulating an employee into sexual contact for employment benefits can be considered hostile.
Types of Conduct
- "Severe harassment" may happen in one episode if it involves a particularly offensive comment or some sort of physical touching.
- "Pervasive harassment" involves less serious conduct that happens frequently over a long period of time. When deciding whether harassment is severe or pervasive or not, courts look at whether the harassment has changed the employee’s working conditions.
Is Bullying Considered Harassment?
Unless the bullying is tied to someone’s race, gender, religion, or other protected category, it isn’t usually considered harassment under federal law. However, if the bullying starts after an employee makes a report of harassment, it may be considered retaliation.
What Happens When You Report Someone for Harassment?
Once you report the harassment, your company will start an investigation. The process differs depending on the workplace, so check with your HR department, supervisor, or employee handbook. Your employer will most likely hear each side of the story and collect copies of any evidence of the harassment. The process can take several weeks or even months. If your employer believes that misconduct occurred, it may take disciplinary action against the individual. This could be sensitivity training, demotion, suspension, or termination. However, if your employer believes your allegations are the result of a misunderstanding or that there isn’t enough evidence, you may want to consider legal action.
Workplace harassment does not have to be directed at the employee filing the claim. An employee can bring a workplace harassment claim based on conduct directed at other employees with a similar status or characteristic to the employee who is bringing the claim (such as a woman bringing a sexual harassment claim based on how other women in the workplace were treated).
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What Is an Average Settlement for a Harassment Lawsuit?
Since each individual case of harassment has a unique set of circumstances, it is difficult to calculate an average settlement payout. For example, larger businesses may end up paying more to settle, but this is not always the case. In rare instances, some cases may include punitive damages. The best way to know what your potential settlement may be is to hire an experienced workplace harassment attorney.
Is It Hard to Prove Harassment?
It can be difficult to prove harassment in the workplace, which is why the problem is so pervasive. First, the interaction with the coworker must meet the legal standards of harassment. This means that the behavior of the harasser must involve:
- Offensive Conduct
- Unwelcome Behavior
- Severity or Pervasiveness
To help prove all of these points, it is important to gather as much evidence as possible. A good way to do this is to write down every incident after it happens with a date and time. This not only helps establish a timeline, but also shows a pattern of the individual’s behavior. If you have a witness that you can trust, try to get a statement from them. This can help validate your harassment claim in court. Finally, if the individual leaves any inappropriate drawings or messages on your desk, collect them as evidence of their behavior.
How Long Does a Harassment Case Take?
The length of time a harassment case lasts depends on the actions taken by the defense. In general, most cases last 1-2 years, especially if they go to trial. Some settlements may happen within just 7-8 months depending on the specifics of the case.
Contact Green, Savits, LLC For Help Today
The New Jersey employment law attorneys at Green, Savits, LLC have more than 50 years of combined experience handling a variety of workplace harassment cases for all types of employees. Harassment can occur in any work environment. If you believe you have been the victim of some form of workplace harassment, our attorneys will fight aggressively to ensure your rights are protected. We know the laws that protect the rights of employees in New Jersey, and we are committed to standing by your side every step of the way to ensure the people who have harassed you are held accountable for their actions.
If you have been a victim of workplace harassment, please contact Green Savits, LLC today using the form on this page or call (973) 695-7777 to schedule your initial consultation. Our employment law attorneys serve clients in Northern and Central New Jersey.