Being bullied at your job in Haddon Township, New Jersey can be understandably demoralizing. If you are the victim of workplace bullying, you might wonder whether there are available legal remedies to pursue. Unfortunately, bullying in the workplace is not always illegal unless it involves harassment or discrimination based on protected characteristics. There are some steps to take if you are dealing with a workplace bully to end the problem, and it’s important to understand your rights if the bad actor is engaging in illegally discriminatory conduct. Here’s some information about your rights and what to do about this type of behavior from the workplace bullying lawyers at Swartz Swidler.
What Is Workplace Bullying?
According to the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI), workplace bullying involves threats, intimidation, verbal abuse, sabotage, or humiliation that affects the victim’s mental or physical health. What might be considered bullying can vary from one individual to another, but bullying in the workplace is a recognized phenomenon. The WBI reports that 76.3 million U.S. workers are affected by workplace bullying, and 30% of U.S. adults report being bullied at work. Despite the pervasiveness of the problem, workplace bullying is considered by many people to be a normal, albeit unpleasant, aspect of employment. This is true even though bullying in other settings, including schools, has been widely condemned.
In some cases, workplace bullying is legal. For example, if your boss routinely belittles you, cusses you out, and treats you worse than other employees because they dislike your personality, that is not illegal. However, this type of conduct in the workplace causes the environment to become toxic to all employees and leads to increased turnover rates, so it makes sense for employers to put an end to it. In other cases, workplace bullying crosses the line into illegal discrimination and harassment. If that situation applies to what is happening to you at work, you are entitled to file a claim against your employer to end the unlawful conduct.
When Bullying is Illegal
Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD), workplace bullying might rise to the level of illegally discriminatory behavior when the bully’s treatment of you is based on your protected characteristics. These laws forbid illegal workplace discrimination and harassment based on the characteristics of members of protected groups, including:
- National origin
- Citizenship status
- Gender identity
- Sexual orientation
- Family status
- Genetic information
If your bully targets you based on any of these characteristics to the extent that the conduct creates a hostile work environment, you might have valid grounds to file a harassment complaint against your employer. A harassment complaint might allow you to recover front pay, back pay, job reinstatement, attorney’s fees, and emotional distress damages.
Asserting Your Rights When Bullying is Illegal
If you believe you are being targeted for an unlawful reason at work, your first step should be to file an internal complaint with your human resources department or another designated individual who handles complaints. Your company must promptly investigate your complaint and take steps to end the harassment. If your company disregards your complaint or retaliates against you, you can file a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights. You must file your charge no later than 180 or 300 days after the last act to preserve your rights.
Once the agency receives your charge, it will investigate what happened. The agency will interview you, your employer, and any witnesses who saw what occurred. It might try to mediate a settlement between you and your employer. Once the investigation is finished, the agency might decide to represent you in a lawsuit against your employer, find that the law has not been violated, or provide you with a notice of your right to pursue a lawsuit on your own. If you receive a right-to-sue letter, you can file a lawsuit against your employer in the appropriate court to pursue legal remedies.
Retaliation is also illegal. Your employer can’t take any adverse employment action against you for filing a complaint of illegal discrimination and harassment. If they do, you can file a retaliation lawsuit against them.
What to Do When Bullying is Legal
If you don’t believe workplace bullying is based on your protected characteristics, there are still some steps to take to try to end it. If you are comfortable, confront the person who is bullying you and tell them to stop. In some cases, this might be enough when the bully thinks they are only teasing you and didn’t mean any offense.
If the bullying doesn’t stop, you should speak to human resources about what is happening to you in the workplace and ask them to take steps to stop the malicious conduct. Many employers recognize that allowing a toxic environment to build in the workplace can lead to higher turnover, reduced productivity, and increased costs.
Finally, if the bullying doesn’t stop, you might want to consider looking for a different job. A change in environment to a more positive workplace might do wonders for your self-esteem, mental health, and physical health.
Talk to a Workplace Bullying Attorney in New Jersey
You should not be expected to deal with workplace bullying. If you believe that you are being targeted unlawfully, you should consult the workplace bullying attorneys at Swartz Swidler. We can honestly assess the legal merits of your case and guide you through the process. Call us for a free case evaluation at (856) 685-7420.