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It is easy to think of workplace bullying as sexual harassment, but there is a difference between the two. Federal and state laws do not directly address bullying, whereas sexual harassment constitutes an unlawful form of gender-based discrimination. But what happens when bullying becomes sexual harassment?

If you have experienced bullying or sexual harassment in your workplace, turn to Castronovo & McKinney, LLC. As a leading employment law firm representing employees in New Jersey, we have the skills and experience to protect your employment rights. When you meet with us, you will work directly with an experienced sexual harassment attorney with a proven track record of success in arbitration and court proceedings. Contact us today to discuss your case in confidence. 

What Is Workplace Bullying?

Generally, bullying involves persistent, unwelcome conduct toward another person over time. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, bullying can be verbal or physical and involve teasing, stalking, and threats. Persistent bullying can cause harm and leave the victim feeling powerless to respond.

Workplace bullying involves repeated negative comments or conduct directed at the victim by a supervisor or coworker that can create a toxic work environment. Bullying can lead to decreased job satisfaction and force an employee to quit; however, bullying is not illegal on its own unless it constitutes discrimination or harassment based on a legally protected characteristic, such as:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Ethnicity
  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender
  • Religion
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender identity
  • Marital status
  • Military service

Federal and state laws protect workers in New Jersey against discrimination and harassment; however, bullying is not actionable unless an employer has a strict policy that prohibits specifically defined bullying.

Differences Between Workplace Bullying and Sexual Harassment

Workplace bullying and sexual harassment differ in several ways. First, not all bullying is sexually motivated – it is often perpetrated without regard for the victim’s gender. Also, bullying involves persistent behavior. Being yelled at by your boss one time may not constitute workplace bullying. By contrast, a single unwelcome sexual advance by a supervisor or being touched inappropriately once by a coworker could be severe enough to constitute sexual harassment.

When Workplace Bullying in New Jersey Becomes Sexual Harassment

Workplace bullying can cross the line into harassment, an illegal form of discrimination based on a legally protected characteristic under federal or New Jersey law. In particular, bullying may constitute sexual harassment if it involves unwanted sexual advances, comments, or gestures that create a hostile work environment.

However, bullying need not be sexual in nature to be considered sexual harassment. Bullying can be due to the victim’s gender. For example, someone constantly berating or teasing a colleague only because she is a woman may be liable for sexual harassment.

Why Castronovo & McKinney?

All employees in New Jersey have a right to a work environment free from discrimination and harassment, but state and federal laws don’t protect you from bullying. By working with our experienced sexual harassment attorneys, you can protect your rights, well-being, and livelihood. When you consult with us, we will listen closely to your story and choose the appropriate action. You can trust our attorneys to:

  • Investigate your claim
  • Identify and interview witnesses, including the alleged bully
  • Review personnel records to determine if the alleged perpetrator has a history of workplace misconduct
  • Explore your legal options

If we determine that you have been bullied solely because of your gender (male or female), sexual orientation, or gender identity, you may have grounds for a sexual harassment lawsuit.

Damages We Will Fight For

In a successful employment discrimination or sexual harassment claim, you may recover the following damages:

  • Lost wages – back pay and front pay
  • The value of lost benefits (e.g. health, retirement plans)
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress
  • Attorney fees and court costs

Although you may be reluctant to come forward out of a legitimate fear of being fired, your employer cannot legally retaliate against you for exercising your legal rights or complaining about bullying, discrimination, or harassment. You can depend on our employment lawyers to guide you through the process every step of the way.

What Employers Can Do About Workplace Bullying

Although workplace bullying is not illegal, employers may be liable when verbal abuse rises to the level of discrimination or harassment. As such, employers should have a zero-tolerance policy regarding sexual harassment and clearly defined standards for appropriate conduct in the workplace. Ultimately, all employers in New Jersey must create a respectful and safe work environment for all employees and take preventative and corrective action against bullying.

Talk To An Experienced New Jersey Employment Law Today!

If you have experienced bullying or sexual harassment in the workplace, you may be frightened and not know what to do about it. Remember, our attorneys are here to help you fight back and protect your rights. Contact us today to get started.