Harassment in the workplace falls under anti-discrimination laws in New Jersey, which protect certain protected classes of individuals against harassment that is based on certain listed traits. It is important to note that not all forms of harassment and bullying in the workplace are illegal. They are only considered illegal if the harassment is based on your membership in a protected class defined by law.
New Jersey Laws Against Discrimination (NJLAD) deem it illegal to be harassed based on color, race, national origin, creed (religion), age, sex gender, disability, nationality, pregnancy, ancestry, sexual orientation, perceived sexual orientation, military status, AIDS or HIV status, genetic information, or marital or domestic partnership status.
Additionally, in order to be considered illegal harassment, the harassing behaviors must be severe, relentless and repetitive, rather than an individual isolated event. If someone says one insensitive comment to you in the workplace, this is not considered harassment. However, if that same person repeatedly makes discriminating comments toward you and others of the same protected class, that shows a pattern of behavior than could result in a successful harassment claim.
If you do have a legitimate harassment claim at work, there are some steps you should take in order to file your complaint and hold your harasser accountable.
Make Your Objections Known
The very first step to take after being harassed at work is to make your objections to the harassing behaviors known. Whether it was insensitive commentary, unwanted sexual attention, threats or hostile treatment, or other discriminatory acts, you need to let your harasser know, in clear terms, that his or her behavior was noticed and that you take issue with it and demand that it stop.
Confronting your harasser can be difficult to do, but this step will prevent him or her from being able to claim that they, “didn’t know anyone was bothered by it.” If speaking in person to your harasser, be sure to bring it up with at least one trusted witness in the vicinity who can validate your conversation.
Using a company-provided email account to send a message to your harasser is one of the best ways to voice your objections and ask that the behaviors cease. In your email, be specific about the date and time of the incident(s). Mention the location of where they occurred and how they made you feel. Be sure to clearly request that these actions, comments, or behaviors stop.
If your harassment claim goes to court, you will be able to use your email record or your witness-verified conversation as proof that this is something that was brought to the attention or your harasser, but still persisted.
Report the Behavior to Human Resources and/or Your Boss
Since New Jersey’s Laws Against Discrimination are so well-known, almost all companies have a protocol in place for reporting harassment in the workplace. Taking your concerns to your boss or your Human Resources representative at your company is a good way to start the process of filing a claim. Reporting your complaint after the first instance of harassment is a very good idea, because it will build a foundation of evidence if the behavior persists.
If your boss is the person harassing you, you should go directly to HR to protect yourself. If someone in the HR department is your harasser, go to your boss or their boss to make your claim.
Your HR representative will make an official note of your complaint and they must follow up with your harasser to address your concerns. This is in your employer’s best interest so they can prove that they are not supportive of any type of harassment in the workplace.
Document ALL Harassment Events
In order for a harassment claim to be successful, you must be able to prove that it was persistent and repetitive. Therefore, it makes sense to keep track of all harassing comments, behaviors, visual images and other events in some sort of log that you can present as evidence.
Try to keep either a notebook, a computer file, a list, or other document strictly for these types of experiences. Each time you are either the victim or witness of a harassing behavior, write down as much detail as you can remember.
Note the date, time, location and names of any witnesses, including the harasser’s and victim’s names. If there were events that led up to the harassment, note those for context.
- If documenting a conversation, try to remember what was said by whom as closely as possible. Quote where you can; paraphrase what you cannot remember verbatim.
- If documenting a behavior like a sexual advance, unnecessary touching, or other threatening behavior, try to draw a diagram of the room to make it clear how events unfolded.
- If documenting harassing images, try to take pictures using a phone, if possible. If not, attempt to diagram where you viewed these images and describe them in as much detail as you can.
The more detailed and complete your documentation is, the better chance you have of proving your harassment claim. Remember, individual single incidents are not enough to make a claim of harassment. To have a real case, you need to be able to show that the behaviors happened frequently and against the same protected classes of individuals.
Hire an Employment Law Attorney
If you have made your objections clear to your harasser, and reported your complaint within your company, yet the harassment persists, you should take your concerns to an experienced employment lawyer like the professionals at Castronovo & McKinney. A good harassment lawyer will be able to listen to your experience and guide you in the right direction toward filing a complaint either in court or with the Division on Civil Rights (DCR).
Our New Jersey Sexual Harassment lawyers free initial consultation of your case where we hear your side of what happened and inform you of your legal options. In some cases, we’ll investigate your claims by interviewing other witnesses and verifying the events you described to build a stronger case. We will help you take the necessary legal steps to protect your job and your income. Whether you are the victim of sexual harassment, discrimination, or hostile work environment harassment, you have right and we want to work to protect them for you.
Contact our offices today to review your case and begin the process of protecting your employment.