Hostile Work Environment
A Hostile Work Environment exists when an employee experiences workplace harassment and fears going to work because of the offensive, intimidating, or oppressive atmosphere generated by the harasser. An employer who has knowledge or should have knowledge of the existence of a hostile work environment is obligated to remediate and stop the harassment. The harassment must be based upon a protected class trait such as sex, sexual orientation, disability, race or national origin. Alternatively, the harassment can be in retaliation for you having made protected whistleblower disclosures, or retaliation for having pursued workers compensation or family leave benefits. When an employer fails to take effective measures to stop the illegal harassment that it knows or should know of, New Jersey law considers that the employer has joined the harasser in making the working environment hostile and sending the harassed employee the message that the harassment is acceptable.
In order to establish a claim based upon a hostile work environment under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD), a Plaintiff must establish that the complained-of conduct:
- would not have occurred but for the employee's protected characteristic;
- it was severe or pervasive enough to make;
- a reasonable person of the same protected trait believes that;
- the conditions of employment have been altered and the working environment is hostile or abusive.
However, New Jersey’s LAD is not a general civility code. Similar to federal discrimination laws, the LAD does not prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not extremely serious. Rather, the conduct must be motivated by discrimination or retaliation and be so objectively offensive as to change the conditions of the individual’s employment. The conditions of employment are altered only if the harassment culminates in a tangible employment action or are sufficiently severe or pervasive.
All sorts of behavior can create what employees deem to be a “hostile work environment”. But, in the legal sense, such an environment is caused by unwelcome conduct in the workplace, in the form of discriminatory harassment toward one or more employees based on inclusion in a protected class. Such conduct may include:
- Conduct that interferes with an individual’s work performance, i.e., conduct that makes it hard for you to concentrate and focus on your work, etc.
- Conduct that creates an intimidating, or offensive work environment.
- Conduct that causes an individual to suffer with respect to a term, condition, or privilege of employment, i.e., receiving a Notice of Discipline, etc.
To be illegal in the eyes of the courts, a hostile work environment typically must be caused by discriminatory workplace harassment based on race, color, sex, age, religion, national origin, disability, genetics; or it must be caused by retaliation in violation of a discrimination law, whistleblower law, workers compensation law or family leave law. This means that unless motivated by discrimination or retaliation, conduct in the workplace amounting to “bullying” cannot by itself serve as the basis for a hostile work environment claim.
Lastly, the victim or witnesses typically must reasonably believe that tolerating hostility in the workplace is a condition of continued employment. In other words, the victim or witnesses typically must reasonably believe that they have no choice, but to endure a hostile workplace in order to keep their jobs.
If you believe you are a victim of a Hostile Work Environment do not hesitate to call us (732) 536-6161 attorneys at Mashel Law or fill out the contact form on this page. Mashel Law is located in Marlboro, New Jersey, and we are dedicated exclusively to protecting the rights of employees.