Workplace harassment is a pervasive issue that impacts employees’ morale, productivity, and overall well-being. At McOmber McOmber & Luber, we are passionate about fighting for those who have fallen victim to this insidious behavior.
As such, we’ve created this Comprehensive Guide to Workplace Harassment that will enlighten readers about their rights and the various aspects of workplace harassment, including its types, the laws against it, how to recognize it, and the steps to take if faced with such a situation.
Table of Contents
- What is Workplace Harassment?
- What Are the Different Types of Workplace Harassment?
- What Laws Protect You Against Workplace Harassment?
- Recognizing Workplace Harassment
- How to Document Workplace Harassment
- Steps to Take When Facing Workplace Harassment
- Can Your Employer Fire You for Reporting Harassment?
- What Are Common Signs of Workplace Retaliation?
- Can There Be Workplace Harassment When Working Remotely?
- Are Freelance and Contract Workers Protected by the Same Workplace Harassment Laws as Regular Employees?
- What Responsibilities Do Employers Have in Preventing Workplace Harassment?
- What Qualifies as Evidence in a Workplace Harassment Case?
- Can I File an Anonymous Complaint About Harassment?
- Are There Specific Laws Protecting LGBTQ+ Individuals from Workplace Harassment?
- What Should Colleagues Do If They Witness Workplace Harassment?
- Does Workplace Harassment Overlap With Other Forms of Harassment?
- Does Social Media Play a Role in Workplace Harassment?
- What Should I Do If My Supervisor is the One Harassing Me?
- How Long Do I Have to Report Workplace Harassment Legally?
1 - What is Workplace Harassment?
Workplace harassment refers to unwanted conduct based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. The behavior becomes unlawful when enduring it becomes a condition of continued employment or if it creates a hostile or offensive work environment.
Harassment can take various forms, including:
- Offensive jokes, slurs, epithets, or name-calling
- Physical assaults or threats
- Intimidation, ridicule, or mockery
- Insults, put-downs, or offensive objects or pictures
- Interference with work performance
2 - What Are the Different Types of Workplace Harassment?
Understanding workplace harassment starts with recognizing its many forms. Harassment is not limited to one particular action or behavior; it spans a range of inappropriate and unwelcome conduct that may detrimentally impact an individual’s work environment or conditions. The subsequent breakdown will detail the various types of workplace harassment, each highlighting different aspects of inappropriate behavior. Gaining an understanding of these categories not only helps identify harassment when it occurs but also aids in fostering a safer and more respectful workplace.
Verbal harassment can be hard to measure. What’s offensive to one person might not be as offensive to another. However, slurs, insults, hurtful comments, and offensive jokes are some of the most common types.
Sexual harassment involves unwanted advances, lewd comments, or sharing explicit material. It is essential to recognize that sexual harassment can happen to anyone, regardless of their gender or orientation. If someone’s behavior makes you uncomfortable, it is crucial to address the issue promptly and professionally.
Sexual harassment can also come in the form of a quid pro quo arrangement, when sexual favors are exchanged for continued employment. While this isn’t a physical violation of consent, it is forcing a person into a position that they do not want to be in.
Discrimination is a widespread form of workplace harassment that occurs when someone treats you unfairly because of your:
- Sexual Orientation / LGBTQ
- AIDS or HIV Status
- Chronic Illness
- Disability, including Mental, Physical, or Perceived Disability
- Genetic Information
- Mental Illness
- Military Employment
- Marital Status
- Maternity Leave
- Medical Marijuana
- National Origin or Ancestry
- Immigrant Status
- Political Beliefs
- Pregnancy, including Breastfeeding / Pumping in the Workplace
- Wage / Pay
- And more
Discrimination for any reason is not only morally wrong, it is also illegal. If you suspect that you’re being discriminated against, it’s essential to gather evidence and report the issue to your supervisor or human resources department.
In the work environment, bullying does not always look the same; it can range from ongoing acts of aggression to overt intimidation. This behavior has the potential to turn a productive workplace into a hostile setting, impacting not just your job performance, but your emotional and mental health as well. If you are facing this kind of treatment at work, it is essential to step forward and secure your rights.
The internet provides harassers with the guise of anonymity and may encourage them to continue their unwanted behavior without fear of consequence. This form of harassment infests various online platforms, from workplace communication tools to private social media sites. Thankfully, cyberbullying isn’t as anonymous as the perpetrators often believe, and there are usually digital breadcrumbs to follow.
Psychological harassment stems from harmful actions directed at an employee that can lead to detrimental psychological, emotional, or physical effects. It can take many forms, including, but not limited to, spreading malicious rumors, unjust criticism, deliberate exclusion, overloading with work or setting impossible deadlines, taking credit for another’s work, or subjecting an individual to demeaning tasks. This form of harassment can create a hostile work environment, affecting the overall well-being and productivity of the individual and the workplace as a whole.
Sexual Orientation Harassment
Sexual orientation harassment at work refers to the unwelcome or offensive behavior directed toward an individual because of their real or perceived sexual orientation. This harassment may involve derogatory comments, offensive jokes, intimidation, or even physical assaults that create a hostile work environment. It can be targeted toward individuals of any sexual orientation who identify as heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual. Such behavior is unlawful under many anti-discrimination laws, and employees who experience this type of harassment have the right to report it and seek remedies.
Harassment Using Power or Authority
Workplace harassment can also manifest through the misuse of power, particularly when coworkers in authoritative positions exploit their status to intimidate or manipulate others. This could involve fostering a hostile work environment due to personal vendettas, or subtly trying to lead employees into actions that might result in their termination. An example of this is when employers manipulate employees with disabilities by assigning tasks that are incompatible with their condition, potentially even risking their health and well-being. This interconnected web of power misuse and manipulation makes for a complex and challenging workplace dynamic that constitutes harassment.
Harassment During Job Interviews
Harassment is not confined to the daily dynamics of a workplace; it can rear its head even during job interviews. In such scenarios, employers, utilizing their authoritative position, may take advantage of the situation to ask discriminatory questions. Regardless of the intent, whether it’s a misguided attempt to know more about a potential hire on a personal level or not, inquiries about factors like age, sexual orientation, or family status are unlawful. Hence, it’s crucial to understand that discrimination can occur even before you become an official employee.
Regardless of the reasoning, asking questions about protected identities such as age, sexual orientation, and family status is considered illegal.
In general, interviewers must avoid questions pertaining to:
- sexual orientation
- country of origin
3 - What Laws Protect You Against Workplace Harassment?
New Jersey has powerful laws to keep employees safe from workplace harassment. Let’s dive deeper into the legal protection available to you.
The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD)
The NJLAD is a comprehensive law that forbids discrimination based on various factors such as race, creed, color, national origin, nationality, ancestry, age, sex, and more. It covers a wide range of workplace situations, from hiring and promotions to terminations and working conditions.
The NJLAD “makes it unlawful to subject people to discrimination or harassment” based on a specific list of classifications. Under New Jersey law, the following types of discrimination in the workplace are prohibited:
- Affectional or Sexual Orientation Discrimination
- Age Discrimination
- AIDS or HIV Status Discrimination
- Atypical Hereditary Cellular or Blood trait, or Genetic Information Discrimination
- Breastfeeding / Pumping in the Workplace Discrimination
- Chronic Illness Discrimination
- Disability Discrimination, including Mental, Physical, or Perceived Disability
- Domestic Partnership or Civil Union Status Discrimination
- Gender Discrimination
- Gender Identity Discrimination or Gender Expression Discrimination
- Hairstyle Discrimination
- Liability for Military Service Discrimination
- LGBTQ Discrimination
- Marital Status Discrimination
- Medical Marijuana Discrimination
- National Origin Discrimination or Ancestry Discrimination
- Pregnancy Discrimination
- Race Discrimination, including Color Discrimination
- Religious Discrimination
- Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
- Transgender Discrimination
New Jersey Senate lawmakers recently passed a bill to bolster the NJLAD and prohibit discrimination based on height and weight. Although the Bill has not yet been approved, it is a major step in the right direction for anti-discrimination law.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
Title VII is a federal law that prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. This law reinforces the protections provided by the NJLAD and ensures that employees in New Jersey have an additional layer of protection against workplace discrimination and harassment.
New Jersey’s Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA)
CEPA, also known as the “Whistleblower Act,” offers protection to employees who report unlawful or unethical practices in the workplace. This law ensures that employees who come forward to report wrongdoing are not subject to retaliation from their employers.
4 - Recognizing Workplace Harassment
Workplace harassment can be subtle. If you are unsure of whether or not you are experiencing a form of workplace harassment, it is important to recognize some of the common signs:
- Uncomfortable Conversations: Any comments or jokes that make you feel uncomfortable can be a form of harassment.
- Hostile Environment: If you constantly feel tense, stressed, or unwelcome due to someone’s actions or words, it may be harassment.
- Discriminatory Behavior: Any actions based on your race, gender, age, or other protected characteristics that negatively impact your work may constitute harassment.
- Retaliation: If you are facing negative consequences for reporting harassment or supporting a colleague’s claim, that is a form of harassment, too.
5 - How to Document Workplace Harassment
Once you have recognized the signs of workplace harassment, it is important to document the following information regarding your harassment in order to build your case:
- Dates, Times, and Locations: keep a record of when and where each harassment incident occurs. This information will be crucial when filing a complaint or talking with your lawyer.
- People Involved: write down the names of the people involved in the harassment, including the harasser and any potential witnesses.
- Description of the Harassment: document the details of the harassment incidents, including any verbal or physical actions that took place.
- Related Communications: save any emails, texts, or other communications related to the harassment. These can serve as valuable evidence in a harassment case.
6 - Steps to Take When Facing Workplace Harassment
If you find yourself experiencing harassment at work, it is essential to take action. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to address the issue:
- Speak Up (if safe): If you feel safe and comfortable, try talking to the person responsible for the harassment. Sometimes, a simple conversation can resolve the issue.
- Report the Incident: If speaking up does not work or is not an option, report the incident to your supervisor or HR department in writing. Make sure to provide all the relevant information and documentation you have collected.
- Seek Support: Reach out to colleagues, friends, or family members for emotional support and advice. You do not have to go through this alone.
- Consult a Lawyer: If the situation does not improve or gets worse, it might be time to seek legal advice. A lawyer can help you understand your rights and options for pursuing a case.
- Ask Questions: Legal matters can be complex. Do not hesitate to ask questions or request further explanation if something is unclear.
- Keep Your Lawyer Updated: If there are any new developments or changes in your situation, inform your lawyer immediately. This information could be crucial to your case.
7 - Can Your Employer Fire You for Reporting Harassment?
Absolutely not. It is illegal for your employer to retaliate against you for reporting workplace harassment. In fact, reporting such conduct is considered a legally protected activity, and the EEOC prohibits employers from retaliating against the employee.
Protected activities include filing a complaint, being a witness, or even speaking out about harassment or discrimination in the workplace.
If you have reported workplace harassment and subsequently faced detrimental actions from your employer, such as termination, demotion, or unfavorable job assignments, you may have additional grounds for a retaliation claim.
8 - What Are Common Signs of Workplace Retaliation?
Some common signs of whistleblower retaliation include:
- Demotion: Losing a particular status or senior position privileges, or being assigned a lower-ranked position.
- Termination: being fired from your position.
- Salary Reduction / Loss of Hours: receiving a pay deduction or shortened hours.
- Exclusion: intentionally being kept out of employee meetings, trainings, or any other activities made available to other employees.
- Reassignment: being reassigned to another task in a way that causes undue hardship.
If you have faced retaliation for blowing the whistle regarding workplace harassment, reach out to a whistleblower attorney today.
9 - Can There Be Workplace Harassment When Working Remotely?
Yes, workplace harassment can happen in remote settings. It can manifest through various digital platforms such as emails, video conferences, messaging apps, and even on social media. The harassment can take the form of inappropriate comments, offensive jokes, or the sharing of explicit materials. Employers are urged to set clear guidelines and conduct regular training to nurture a respectful and inclusive remote working culture.
10 - Are Freelance and Contract Workers Protected by the Same Workplace Harassment Laws as Regular Employees?
Freelance and contract workers face a different landscape when it comes to protections against workplace harassment, which can sometimes be less comprehensive compared to protections accorded to regular employees. The level of protection largely depends on various factors such as:
- The jurisdiction in which they work
- Specific stipulations in their contractual agreements
- The nature of their work relationship with the employer
It is advisable for freelancers and contract workers to seek legal advice to understand the full extent of their rights and the available avenues for seeking redress in case they face harassment.
11 - What Responsibilities Do Employers Have in Preventing Workplace Harassment?
Employers are obligated to create and uphold a safe work environment, which includes setting up policies against harassment and ensuring that they are adhered to. They should also provide channels for reporting harassment and take appropriate actions against offenders.
12 - What Qualifies as Evidence in a Workplace Harassment Case?
In workplace harassment cases, having a collection of solid evidence can be pivotal in substantiating your claims. The evidence might encompass a wide range of materials, including:
- Communications such as emails, texts, or instant messages.
- Witness testimonies.
- Visual or audio recordings of the harassment.
- Documents that show a pattern of harassment, such as performance reviews or disciplinary actions.
It is advisable to maintain a detailed record of all incidents, including dates, times, and the nature of the harassment to build a strong case. Keeping such records can often facilitate a more straightforward resolution to the harassment complaints, either internally or through legal avenues.
13 - Can I File an Anonymous Complaint About Harassment?
Yes, many companies allow for anonymous complaints to encourage reporting without fear of retaliation. However, it’s important to note that anonymity might sometimes limit the actions that can be taken in response to a complaint. It is advised to review your company’s policy on this matter.
14 - Are There Specific Laws Protecting LGBTQ+ Individuals from Workplace Harassment?
Yes, there are laws that protect LGBTQ+ individuals from workplace harassment. In the U.S., for instance, the Supreme Court ruled in 2020 that the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sex discrimination, applies to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This means that employers cannot discriminate or harass employees based on their LGBTQ+ status. Many states and local jurisdictions also have their own laws offering additional protections.
15 - What Should Colleagues Do If They Witness Workplace Harassment?
Colleagues who witness workplace harassment should report it to a supervisor, manager, or the human resources department. Supporting the victim by being an ally, offering to be a witness, and encouraging the victim to report are also crucial actions. It’s essential to foster a culture where harassment is not tolerated, and bystander intervention can play a key role in this.
16 - Does Workplace Harassment Overlap With Other Forms of Harassment?
Yes, workplace harassment can overlap with other forms of harassment, such as racial, religious, age, and gender-based harassment. Discrimination and harassment can intersect, where an individual might be targeted for multiple aspects of their identity.
17 - Does Social Media Play a Role in Workplace Harassment?
Absolutely. Harassment can extend beyond the physical workplace and into the digital realm. Cyberbullying, online harassment, or sharing inappropriate content can all be forms of workplace harassment if they involve coworkers or occur in work-related contexts.
18 - What Should I Do If My Supervisor is the One Harassing Me?
If your supervisor is harassing you, it’s essential to document the incidents and report them to a higher authority within the company, like a manager above your supervisor or the human resources department. If you’re concerned about retaliation, many companies have policies and protections in place to protect employees who report harassment.
19 - How Long Do I Have to Report Workplace Harassment Legally?
The timeframe to report workplace harassment can vary depending on the jurisdiction and the specific laws in place. In the U.S., for example, under federal law, employees typically have 180 days from the harassment incident to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. However, this period can be extended to 300 days if state or local laws also address the harassment. It’s essential to check local regulations and consult with legal counsel if unsure.
Fight Back Against Workplace Harassment
Workplace harassment is a serious issue that requires immediate attention. By understanding your rights, recognizing the signs, and knowing the steps to combat harassment, you can contribute to a more respectful and inclusive work environment. If you believe you have been a victim of workplace harassment, do not hesitate to seek legal assistance.
Do not let workplace harassment go unchecked. Stand up, be informed, and make a difference. Contact us today to learn what a skilled and passionate legal team can do for you.