Harassment experienced in the workplace can take on a variety of forms. Who perpetrates it, how they do it and how often are just a few ways that harassment can differ from case to case. Thus, the federal and state law against harassment in the workplace covers quite a breadth.
To start off, the most basic way to classify workplace harassment so is by using two categories: quid pro quo and hostile work environment.
Quid pro quo is typically sexual harassment. In this situation, your supervisor may make decisions about your employment based on whether or not you accept or tolerate their sexual advances. However, quid pro quo harassment could be religiously based as well, according to the Department of Labor. Your supervisor is not allowed by law to compel you to take part in a religious activity as a condition of your employment.
Hostile work environment encapsulates harassment that is “severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive,” according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). This harassment can be based on a number of characteristics.
The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination prohibits harassment and discrimination based on the following protected classes:
- National Origin
- Marital/Domestic Partnership/Civil Union Status
- Gender Identity/Expression
- Disability (Mental or Physical)
- Military Service
- Affectional or Sexual Orientation
- Atypical Cellular or Blood Trait
- Genetic Information
- Family Status
- Source of Lawful Income or Source of Lawful Rent Payment
- AIDS or HIV related illness
Sexual harassment can create a hostile work environment or be quid pro quo. Harassment based on sex doesn’t always mean sexual advances—if you’re suffering derogatory comments based on your sex, or another form of offensive conduct, you could be the victim of a hostile work environment.
Moreover, you don’t have to be the direct target of the harassment to be the victim of a hostile work environment. The victim can be “anyone affected by the offensive conduct,” according to the EEOC.
The ways in which harassment can be experienced are manifold. When it comes to quid pro quo harassment, the advances could come as a direct threat, according to the American Bar Association. A supervisor might tell “an employee she [or he] will be fired if she [or he] doesn’t sleep with him [or her],” the ABA says. Alternatively, the employer might promise that the employee will benefit from accepting the advances, through a raise, promotion or otherwise. The only possible perpetrator of quid pro quo is someone who has the ability to make decisions about the employment of the victim, such as a supervisor.
In the case of hostile work environment harassment, the ways it can be experienced are a bit broader. Moreover, it can be perpetrated not only by a supervisor, but by anyone else in your workplace, or even a non-employee.
Examples of Workplace Harassment
Here are some examples of how a hostile work environment can be created, according to the Department of Labor and the Balance Careers. Keep in mind, this is not a comprehensive list:
- Offensive jokes related to any protected class
- Offensive pictures related to any protected class
- Indecent gestures
- Sabotaging of work
- Unnecessary touching
- Comments on physical appearance (not necessarily of a sexual nature)
Workplace Harassment Situations
Another way to classify types of harassment is the situation in which it occurs. The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination prohibits discrimination in “any job-related action,” according to the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights. This includes job recruitment and beyond: “interviewing, hiring, promotion, discharge, compensation, terms, conditions, and privileges of employment,” according to the Division.
According to The Balance Careers, even questions about protected characteristics during job interviews can be considered harassment. What gender you identify as, what race you are, what religion you adhere to, and other kinds of intrusive personal questions are unrelated to your capacity to do the job.
On top of all this, it is important to remember what exactly is the most basic definition of unlawful harassment: “unlawful harassing conduct must be unwelcome and based on the victim’s protected status,” the Department of Labor says.
Additionally, as previously stated, the harassment must be “severe or pervasive” enough to make a “reasonable person” find it “hostile or abusive.” The usage of the word “or” makes it a rather broad definition—that is, harassment may be severe, pervasive, or both, in order to be considered unlawful. This could be a one-time severe offense, consistent less severe behavior that pervades your work environment, or anywhere in between.
The harassment lawyers at Castronovo & McKinney have helped hundreds of New Jersey employees with sexual harassment claims. Contact us today for a free consultation.