Unfortunately, some employees in New Jersey suffer harassment based on their protected characteristics at work. Harassment is a form of illegal discrimination and should not be tolerated by employers. If you are being harassed at work based on your protected characteristics, it is important to understand your rights. Here is what you should know about workplace harassment and the steps to take to end it from the attorneys at Swartz Swidler.
Understanding Workplace Harassment
Workplace harassment is illegal when it is based on the protected characteristics of the victim. Protected characteristics include the following:
- Gender identity
- Sexual orientation
- National origin
- Citizenship status
- Genetic information
Harassment based on any of these protected characteristics is illegal under both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, its amendments, and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD). The NJLAD is broader and applies to all employers in the state and covers additional categories of protected groups.
Workplace harassment can take multiple forms and can involve the following types of actions:
- Offensive comments about the person’s protected characteristics
- Racial slurs
- Requests for sexual favors
- Obscene jokes
- Unwelcome sexual contact
- Pornographic displays
- Racist displays
Perpetrators of illegal harassment can include supervisors, fellow employees, customers, or clients.
Sexual harassment can occur in one of two ways, including the creation of a hostile work environment or quid pro quo sexual harassment. Quid pro quo harassment occurs when a supervisor or another person in a position of authority over the victim requests sexual favors in exchange for a work benefit or in lieu of a threatened negative action. Hostile work environment harassment can occur with any form of harassment and occurs when the behavior creates such a hostile environment that a reasonable person would find it difficult to perform the duties of their job.
Steps to Take If You Are the Victim of Illegal Harassment
If you believe you are the victim of illegal harassment in the workplace based on your protected characteristics, there are several steps you should take to try to resolve the issue and protect your ability to recover compensation.
1. Confront the Harasser.
The first step is likely the most difficult. If you feel safe, you should confront the person who has been harassing you about their behavior. In some cases, people don’t realize that they are behaving offensively. Talking to the person who is harassing you might be enough to resolve the problem. Tell them that you are offended and ask them to stop behaving that way.
2. Send a Formal Memo to the Harasser.
If the harassment continues, write up a formal memo and date it that lists the offensive behaviors and demands an immediate end to the behavior. Save a copy of this memo.
3. Report the Harassment at Your Workplace.
If the harassment continues, report what is happening to your supervisor or the human resources department. If you feel unsafe confronting the harasser, you can skip the first two steps and immediately file an internal complaint with your supervisor or HR. Make sure to submit your complaint in writing, and include detailed descriptions of each incident that happened, their dates, and any witnesses who saw what occurred. Keep a copy of your written complaint.
Your employer should investigate your complaint and take steps to resolve the issue. However, if your employer doesn’t do anything or engages in retaliation against you for filing a complaint, you’ll need to move on to a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and/or the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights.
4. Document Everything.
To support your complaint, you need to make sure you document everything. Keep copies of your written internal complaint, the memo you sent to the harasser, any offensive emails, text messages, or other documents you received, photographs of offensive displays, and other evidence. You should also keep copies of your performance evaluations and other emails or letters about the quality of your work. These types of evidence can help you counter your employer’s claim that your work was unsatisfactory. Talk to your co-workers about what has happened. You might find additional witnesses or others who have also been targeted for discrimination by the harasser.
5. File Your Complaint.
If your employer did not resolve your complaint, you should file an administrative charge with the EEOC and the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights. When you file with one agency, you can request that it files with the other one, too. It is very important for you to file your complaint quickly because of the statutory deadline. You must file a claim with the EEOC and the state no later than 300 days following the last discriminatory act. If you don’t, you will not be able to pursue your case.
Contact a Lawyer
If you have taken steps at your job to end your harassment to no avail, you should contact a lawyer at Swartz Swidler. We focus on employment law and can help you through the process. Contact us for a free case evaluation at 856-685-7420.