Workplace harassment is unfortunately a pervasive problem that is encountered in New Jersey and around the country. It can take many forms, and there are federal laws that prohibit it and that provide protections to those who are its victims.
In its simplest form, workplace harassment is offensive or otherwise unwelcome conduct based upon certain protected categories, including race, gender, religion, national origin, disabilities or other enumerated criteria. It is prohibited if enduring it becomes a condition of the victim's continuing to remain employed, or if it becomes so pervasive that it creates a working environment that a reasonable person would find hostile or abusive. While the occasional slight or insult may not be prohibited, a repeated pattern may eventually result in an intimidating and hostile situation. There are a variety of types of offensive conduct that are prohibited, and they can include physical threats, repeated offensive jokes, slurs or insults, name calling, ridicule and interference with the performance of the victim's duties.
The harasser can be the victim's supervisor, a co-worker or an agent of the employer. Even an employee who is not the direct target of the harassment can be a victim if her or she is offended by the behavior. The employer is liable for harassment directly committed by a supervisor if it results in the victim being terminated or demoted or if it causes the victim to suffer a wage loss. However, if a hostile working environment created by a supervisor is being alleged, the employer will only be liable if it made a reasonable effort to attempt to stop the behavior and promptly correct it and the victim failed to take advantage of the employer's actions in so doing.
Workplace harassment is governed by several federal laws, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act. There are steps that need to be taken in order to file a claim for unlawful harassment with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and an employment law attorney can explain the procedure.
Source: U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, "Harassment", accessed on Jan. 20, 2015