Generally, employers in New Jersey have an obligation to ensure that the workplace they are providing is harassment-free. However, like allegations of work-related discrimination, harassment is unlawful in New Jersey only if it is based on an employee being a member of a legally “protected class”.
The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (N.J.S.A. 10:5-12) (“LAD”) 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. Be mindful that not all of the foregoing prohibited bases for discrimination are protected in all areas of activity.
Claims of harassment are actionable only if the claims rise to the level of being “severe” and “pervasive”. While severity generally deals with the offensiveness of the act or acts in question, perverseness deals with the frequency or lack thereof, of the alleged act or acts. Additionally, the alleged conduct must rise to the level that the terms and conditions of the employment are altered.
While considering the above criteria, the Courts in New Jersey employ a “reasonable person” standard. For example, to be legally actionable, harassment must create a hostile work environment which would cause a “reasonable person” of the same protected class, rather than a hypersensitive member, to feel as though the conditions of employment were altered.
Claims of harassment and/or a hostile work environment can rise from an act or acts of both supervisors or managers and co-employees. Harassment need not be committed by management, as employers can be held liable for the actions of non-supervisory co-workers. If faced with harassment and/or hostile work environment claims from an employee, the employer should contact counsel immediately. The LAD provides numerous remedies for victims of harassment, including, but not limited to: back-pay; forward pay; counsel fees and costs; compensatory damages for emotional distress; and punitive damages.
The attorneys in Stark & Stark’s Employment Law Group have experience defending a wide-variety of employers against allegations of all types of workplace harassment. Additionally, our practice helps employers avoid legal exposure, by providing management training on compliance with both state and federal laws involving harassment.