New Jersey law prohibits employers from creating a hostile work environment for employees. A hostile work environment exists when an employee is harassed, intimidated, or otherwise subjected to improper conduct that hinders, or could reasonably hinder, their productivity. If a workplace becomes “hostile,” repeated abuse or harassment can make it difficult for an employee to come to work without undue fear or anxiety. This is not only unacceptable, it is illegal. New Jersey law authorizes employees to recover damages and avail themselves of additional legal remedies if they prevail in a hostile work environment claim.
A hostile work environment is established when unwanted conduct is directed at a person or persons who fall within a protected class. The NJ Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”) prohibits employers from subjecting employees to harassment due to their protected characteristics, including the following: race, creed, color, national origin, ancestry, age, marital status, civil union status, domestic partnership status, affectional or sexual orientation, genetic information, sex, gender identity or expression, disability or hereditary traits, service in the armed forces, or nationality.
If you are forced to work in setting where sexual discussions or comments are ongoing, racist or prejudiced comments or jokes are made, inappropriate touching or brushing up against you occurs, someone has made references to your physical appearance, offensive language is the norm, you have been demeaned or have heard derogatory language being used against a protected group of people, or other harassing behavior has made the workplace intolerable, you may have grounds to sue the company for a hostile work environment.
Notably, harassment that gives rise to a hostile work environment is not confined to employers. Anyone operating in the workplace can perpetrate this type of conduct, including owners, managers, supervisors, independent contractors, colleagues, lower-level co-workers, board members, and clients of the company.
Employees may bring statutory hostile work environment claims in New Jersey under LAD, codified at N.J.S.A. 10:5-12. LAD applies to all public and private employers that do business in New Jersey, regardless of their size. With that said, the hostile work environment provisions of LAD generally apply only to employees, not independent contractors.
If an employee is harassed in the workplace based on any of the above protected characteristics, those employees can establish a hostile work environment claim if they meet the following further criteria:
If your hostile work environment claim is successful, you may be entitled to any number of legal remedies. A successful hostile work environment claim may result in injunctive relief, which is a court order requiring the employer or other liable party to cease discriminating, harassing, or retaliating against you. If you have been wrongfully terminated, you may also be able to get your job back. Plaintiffs bringing hostile work environment claims in New Jersey may also obtain compensation for back pay, compensatory damages, punitive damages, interest on lost wages, and/or reasonable attorney’s fees.
You may be required to make a certain showing prior to establishing your entitlement to the remedies listed above, but depending on the facts of the case, each of these remedies is potentially available to you. To ensure that you pursue any and all applicable damages in your case, it is highly advisable to discuss your situation with an experienced New Jersey employment law attorney.
Hostile Work Environment Specialist