In New Jersey, a hostile work environment is defined by the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD). It is not merely about a demanding boss or a stressful workplace. Instead, it involves discriminatory conduct that is so severe or pervasive that it alters the conditions of employment and creates an abusive work environment.

Such conduct must be due to protected characteristics such as race, gender, religion, age, disability, sexual orientation, or marital status. Additionally, it must be severe enough that a reasonable person would find it hostile, intimidating, or abusive.

For example, consider John, a Hispanic employee in a predominantly white office. If his colleagues consistently make derogatory racial jokes or comments or purposely exclude him from team meetings due to his ethnicity, this could constitute a hostile work environment.

Establishing a Hostile Work Environment Claim in New Jersey

To establish a hostile work environment claim in New Jersey, an employee must demonstrate that:

  1. They belong to a protected class.
  2. They were subjected to unwelcome harassment.
  3. The harassment was because of their membership in the protected class.
  4. The harassment was severe or pervasive enough to make a reasonable person of the same protected class believe that the conditions of employment are altered, and the working environment is hostile or abusive.

Consider a case where Susan, a 60-year-old woman, works in a tech company where most employees are in their twenties. Suppose Susan’s colleagues constantly belittle her, question her competency based on her age, and exclude her from social events. In that case, she might have a valid claim for a hostile work environment due to age discrimination.

Employer Liability for a Hostile Work Environment

In New Jersey, employers can be held liable for creating or failing to address a hostile work environment. This applies whether the hostility is perpetrated by a supervisor, a coworker, or even a non-employee such as a vendor or a client.

Employer liability hinges on whether they knew or should have known, about the hostile work environment and failed to take prompt and effective remedial action. For instance, if an employee reports sexual harassment to HR but does nothing to address the situation, the company could be held liable.

Remedies Available to Employees

In New Jersey, remedies for a hostile work environment can be extensive, depending upon the circumstances of the case. These may include:

  • Back pay for any lost wages due to the hostile work environment.
  • Front pay if the victim is not reasonably expected to return to the same workplace.
  • Compensatory damages for pain and suffering or emotional distress.
  • Punitive damages are designed to punish the employer and deter similar conduct in the future.
  • Legal fees and costs.

Taking Action Against a Hostile Work Environment

It is crucial to speak up if you feel you are experiencing a hostile work environment. Reporting the behavior to a supervisor or the HR department can help establish a record of your attempts to address the situation—document instances of the hostile behavior, including dates, times, locations, and any witnesses present.

If you are facing a hostile work environment, consulting with an experienced employment attorney who understands New Jersey law is critical. As seasoned employment attorneys, we are dedicated to protecting your rights and will work tirelessly to ensure you receive the justice you deserve.

Remember, no one should have to endure a hostile work environment. Your job should be a place of productivity, growth, and respect, not fear and intimidation. It’s time to take action against workplace hostility. Contact the attorneys at Risman & Risman, P.C. online or call us at (212)-233-6400.

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