Workplace harassment is when someone is verbally abused or humiliated at work based on any legally protected trait set forth by law. Legally protected traits include an employee’s race, sex, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, marital status, disability, ancestry, or national origin. If any of these traits are targeted and you suffer unease or fear as a result, you can prosecute the offender under workplace harassment law.
This could be in the form of teasing or bullying by coworkers or off-color commentary passed off as jokes. When you are made to feel belittled or reduced in the workplace, that constitutes harassment, and it is illegal. You have the right to raise your concerns in a penalty-free environment. If you have voiced your observations at work, yet no action was taken, we can help by following through the correct channels or even bringing litigation against your employer.
Sexual harassment is also illegal, but shows itself in different ways than workplace harassment. There are two categories that fall under the Sexual Harassment umbrella: Quid Pro Quo sexual harassment and Hostile Work Environment Sexual Harassment.
Quid pro quo sexual harassment is when a superior gives conditions to workplace advances based on sexual demands. Suggestions from a hiring manager that a job will be offered only after sexual requests are answered, or promotions that are held back when an employee will not sexually engage with a boss are both illegal forms of Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment.
Hostile Work Environment Sexual Harassment is where anyone in the workplace creates a sexually charged environment through innuendo, sexual comments, pictures, or touching. While no overt demands may be made, a sexually charged environment means that you were made to feel belittled or threatened. Even non-sexual, but uninvited touching or comments about your physical features can cause this kind of hostile atmosphere.
If you feel you were harassed, verbally abused or humiliated because of a protected trait or a sexually charged environment, then you may have just cause to seek a harassment lawsuit against your coworker or employer. A harassment suit is different from a discrimination suit in that your experience was one of emotional distress rather than tangible loss of income or benefits.
While both are illegal, harassment can be harder to prove without the right legal guidance, which is why it is important to hire an experienced employment attorney. As with all types of harassment, establishing a pattern of behavior is key, so be sure to keep documentation of instances and examples of the harassment, as well as any measures to bring it up to your superiors or HR to help your case.
Non-Sexual Hostile Work Environment
There are other types of hostile work environment claims that do not fall under the sexual harassment grouping. These occur when your work environment includes negative commentary about any protected traits or any kind of bullying or intimidation tactics that make you feel threatened or unsafe.
Threats of violence unless you perform certain duties at work, or demeaning comments about disabilities, cultural background, or lifestyle preferences should be documented to prove a consistent, continued experience in this environment. Note dates, times, names and quotes when you can. These types of cases require proof of continuous experiences in detrimental atmosphere like this.
Discrimination is the act of preventing individuals from receiving jobs, benefits, promotions, interviews, etc. based on certain protected characteristics. Similar to harassment law, there are a number of specific traits that have been defined by the law as protected from discrimination. New Jersey’s current list of protected characteristics include race, color, creed, nationality, national origin, ancestry, age, sex, gender identity, marital status, domestic partnership status, affectional or sexual orientation, atypical hereditary cellular or blood trait, genetic information liability for military service, mental disability, or physical disability, including AIDS and HIV related illnesses. Other states may have different categories or names for these protected characteristics. Let us use our national network to help you find an employment attorney in your area if we can represent you directly.
If you believe that you have been discriminated against for any of these characteristics, you could have a lawsuit. For Employment Law, the ways discrimination is shown varies. It could be that discrimination kept you from receiving a job or recruiting interview. Perhaps you feel you were not hired or promoted because of one of these traits. Or maybe you take issue to the level of compensation or benefits offered based on one of these categories. In any one of these instances, your legal right to work and earn cannot be discriminated against.
We will discuss with you the details of your discrimination claim and will review both the state laws and the related Federal laws that are involved in your claim. Together we can determine the best course of action to pursue.
While some states are “Employ at Will” states, there still are some instances that fall outside of this protected clause. Employment at Will simply means that workers are not coerced into taking jobs they do not want, and employers are not bound to keep workers for any specific length of time unless a contract is signed stating otherwise. However, some wrongful termination lawsuits can still be brought if you feel you were let go or fired for unlawful reasons.
For example, if you lost your job due to discrimination against any of the legally protected classes, that falls under the illegal termination category. Likewise, if you were fired after complaining of any kind of harassment or intimidation behaviors, that would be an illegal firing and a wrongful termination suit could be brought against your employer.
Whistle-Blower and Retaliation Claims
When a worker complains of mistreatment to Human Resources, they are protected from termination as retaliation to those claims. The Whistle-Blower Laws are there for employees’ protection so they can feel safe reporting illegal behavior. If you have witnessed or been the victim of harassment, discrimination or abuse in the workplace, you should have the freedom to report those actions in order to get them to cease. Whistleblower laws are also in place to protect employees from being pressured to partake in any actions which they feel may be illegal or unsavory. Refusal to perform such duties is not a reason for dismissal; employers who take such action can be prosecuted under whistleblower laws.
However, some people in power may attempt to tarnish your reputation, assign you undesirable work, or even fire you as payback from reporting what you saw or experienced.
Litigation of Claims
You have been diligent in your job, on time to work, and have tried to handle your complaints through Human Resources. Yet some issues still come down to litigation, which is when you’ll need a firm of employment attorneys with expertise and experience.
If you need to pursue litigation of employment law claims, the process is different from filing a typical personal injury lawsuit. First we will serve the defendant with a demand letter which explains your claim and requirement that they contact our firm to seek resolution. If resolution is not possible, then it proceeds to a formal complaint filed with the court, which officially begins your lawsuit. Our employment attorneys can help you through this process and beyond.
Fortunately, not all exit experiences require a lawsuit or filing a claim. Some can be handled amicably with simple agreements. Our employment attorneys can offer a review and analysis of your severance package as part of a flat fee service. This will include recommendations for language to be amended or removed as well as analysis of your termination to ensure that you aren’t waiving your right to a lawsuit.
Additionally, we offer severance negotiation as well. We will work with you and your employer’s Human Resources department to determine how much severance you are entitled to by law based on any previous employment contracts or promises. Even if you did not have a signed contract with mention of specific severance payments, we can usually negotiate a fair amount based on past experiences.
Let our experienced employment attorneys review any release documentation you have received to give you peace of mind that all avenues were explored before you end your employment.