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, this comprehensive guide aims to 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?
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.
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.
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.