In New Jersey, state and federal law prohibit employers from maintaining a hostile work environment and gives employees a legal cause of action to obtain compensation and other relief after suffering under a hostile work environment. Despite advances in the law granting workers protections from discrimination in the workplace, employees continue to suffer from hostile work environments in New Jersey.

If you believe you have been the victim of workplace discrimination or a hostile work environment, here is what you need to know about proving a legal claim for a hostile work environment. 

Types of Discrimination That Can Cause a Hostile Work Environment

A hostile work environment involves discrimination and harassment based on a protected class or characteristic. Under federal law, protected classes include:

  • Race
  • Color
  • National origin
  • Religious beliefs
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation
  • Age (over 40)
  • Disability
  • Genetic information

Protected classes under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination include:

  • Race 
  • Color
  • National origin or ancestry
  • Religious beliefs
  • Sex
  • Gender identity or gender expression
  • Pregnancy or breastfeeding
  • Disability
  • Age
  • Marital status
  • Liability for military service
  • Hereditary medical conditions
  • Genetic information 

What Constitutes a Hostile Work Environment?

Courts define a hostile work environment as being created by discrimination or harassment that is either so severe in nature or so pervasive in frequency as to alter the conditions of employment to the extent that no reasonable person would want to work under such conditions. 

Report Discrimination

The first step in proving a hostile work environment is to report acts of discrimination or harassment that you experience in the workplace. Your employer may not be liable for a hostile work environment if managers, executives, or other decision-makers are unaware that discrimination or harassment is ongoing in the workplace. If you put your employer on notice of a hostile work environment and your employer fails to take reasonable action to resolve the situation, you may have a viable legal claim. 

Gather Evidence

If you continue to experience discrimination or harassment at work, you should begin to collect evidence of the hostile work environment. Keep copies of any emails, internal messages, text messages, or voicemails that involve discriminatory or harassing language. You should also contemporaneously journal any discriminatory or harassing statements or actions made in person, including discriminatory or harassing materials circulated around the workplace or discriminatory/harassing “jokes” or pranks. 

You should also keep records of your efforts to report the hostile work environment to your supervisors. Ideally, any reports should be made in writing with the ability to time-stamp the report, such as by sending emails. 

You may also want to keep note of any co-workers or other witnesses to discriminatory or harassing conduct in the workplace. 

Contact an Attorney

Hiring an employment law attorney will give you the best chance of succeeding with a hostile work environment claim. Proving discrimination or harassment in the workplace or establishing your employer’s liability for a hostile work environment is often a difficult task. An attorney will know how to investigate and prepare a persuasive legal claim. 

File a Legal Claim

Finally, you may decide to file a formal hostile work environment claim. Most claims will need to be filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the New Jersey Office of Equal Employment Opportunity and Affirmative Action. If the federal or state agency declines to act on your claim, you will be given notice of your right to file a lawsuit against your employer. 

Contact a Rochelle Park Employment Law Attorney to Discuss Your New Jersey Hostile Work Environment Case

Although New Jersey employment laws are supposed to provide you with protections in the workplace, it is not always easy to get the rights you deserve. That is why you should speak with a knowledgeable employment lawyer about your situation and get guidance about your rights and options. The experienced employment law attorneys at The Epstein Law Firm, P.A. represent clients in Englewood, Fair Lawn, Fort Lee, Garfield, and all across New Jersey. Call (201) 380-7687 or fill out our online contact form today to schedule a free consultation about your work injury case. Our main office is located at 340 West Passaic St., Rochelle Park, NJ 07762.

The articles on this blog are for informative purposes only and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our law firm directly.